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Consumer Attitude Formation & Change: Attitude functions

You’ve developed attitudes about such issues, and these attitudes influence your beliefs as well as your behavior. Attitudes are an important topic of study within the field of social psychology.

Psychologists define attitudes as a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way. This can include evaluations of people, issues, objects, or events. Such evaluations are often positive or negative, but they can also be uncertain at times. For example, you might have mixed feelings about a particular person or issue.

Researchers also suggest that there are several different components that make up attitudes.

The components of attitudes are sometimes referred to as CAB or the ABC’s of attitude.

  • Cognitive Component: Your thoughts and beliefs about the subject.
  • Affective Component: How the object, person, issue, or event makes you feel.
  • Behavioral Component: How the attitude influences your behavior.

Attitudes can also be explicit and implicit. Explicit attitudes are those that we are consciously aware of and that clearly influence our behaviors and beliefs. Implicit attitudes are unconscious but still have an effect on our beliefs and behaviors.

Attitude Formation

There are a number of factors that can influence how and why attitudes form.

Experience

Attitudes form directly as a result of experience. They may emerge due to direct personal experience, or they may result from observation.

Social Factors

Social roles and social norms can have a strong influence on attitudes. Social roles relate to how people are expected to behave in a particular role or context. Social norms involve society’s rules for what behaviors are considered appropriate.

Learning

Attitudes can be learned in a variety of ways. Consider how advertisers use classical conditioning to influence your attitude toward a particular product. In a television commercial, you see young, beautiful people having fun on a tropical beach while enjoying a sports drink. This attractive and appealing imagery causes you to develop a positive association with this particular beverage.

Operant conditioning can also be used to influence how attitudes develop. Imagine a young man who has just started smoking. Whenever he lights up a cigarette, people complain, chastise him, and ask him to leave their vicinity. This negative feedback from those around him eventually causes him to develop an unfavorable opinion of smoking and he decides to give up the habit.

Finally, people also learn attitudes by observing the people around them. When someone you admire greatly espouses a particular attitude, you are more likely to develop the same beliefs. For example, children spend a great deal of time observing the attitudes of their parents and usually begin to demonstrate similar outlooks.

Attitudes and Behavior

We tend to assume that people behave according to their attitudes. However, social psychologists have found that attitudes and actual behavior are not always perfectly aligned. After all, plenty of people support a particular candidate or political party and yet fail to go out and vote.

Factors that Influence Attitude Strength

Researchers have discovered that people are more likely to behave according to their attitudes under certain conditions:

  • When your attitudes are the result of personal experience.
  • When you are an expert on the subject.
  • When you expect a favorable outcome.
  • When the attitudes are repeatedly expressed.
  • When you stand to win or lose something due to the issue.

Attitudes Can Change to Match Behavior

In some cases, people may actually alter their attitudes in order to better align them with their behavior. Cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon in which a person experiences psychological distress due to conflicting thoughts or beliefs. In order to reduce this tension, people may change their attitudes to reflect their other beliefs or actual behaviors.

The Function of Attitudes

Attitudes can serve functions for the individual.  Daniel Katz (1960) outlines four functional areas:

Knowledge

Attitudes provide meaning (knowledge) for life.  The knowledge function refers to our need for a world which is consistent and relatively stable.

This allows us to predict what is likely to happen, and so gives us a sense of control. Attitudes can help us organize and structure our experience.

Knowing a person’s attitude helps us predict their behavior. For example, knowing that a person is religious we can predict they will go to Church.

Self / Ego-expressive

The attitudes we express

(1) Help communicate who we are

(2) May make us feel good because we have asserted our identity.  Self-expression of attitudes can be non-verbal too: think bumper sticker, cap, or T-shirt slogan.

Therefore, our attitudes are part of our identify, and help us to be aware through the expression of our feelings, beliefs and values.

Adaptive

If a person holds and/or expresses socially acceptable attitudes, other people will reward them with approval and social acceptance.

For example, when people flatter their bosses or instructors (and believe it) or keep silent if they think an attitude is unpopular.  Again, expression can be nonverbal [think politician kissing baby].

Attitudes then, are to do with being apart of a social group and the adaptive functions helps us fit in with a social group. People seek out others who share their attitudes, and develop similar attitudes to those they like.

Ego-defensive

The ego-defensive function refers to holding attitudes that protect our self-esteem or that justify actions that make us feel guilty.  For example, one way children might defend themselves against the feelings of humiliation they have experienced in P.E. lessons is to adopt a strongly negative attitude to all sports.

People whose pride have suffered following a defeat in sport might similarly adopt a defensive attitude: “I’m not bothered, I’m sick of rugby anyway…”  This function has psychiatric overtones.  Positive attitudes towards ourselves, for example, have a protective function (i.e. an ego-defensive role) in helping us reserve our self-image.

The basic idea behind the functional approach is that attitudes help a person to mediate between their own inner needs (expression, defense) and the outside world (adaptive and knowledge).

The basic idea behind the functional approach is that attitudes help a person to mediate between their own inner needs (expression, defense) and the outside world (adaptive and knowledge).

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