Theory of Attitude Formation and Attitude Change
THEORY OF ATTITUDE FORMATION
- Cognitive Consistency Theories
Research has generally concluded that people seek consistency among their attitudes and between their attitudes and their behaviour. This means that people seek to reconcile divergent attitudes and align their attitudes and behaviour so that they appear rational and consistent. When there is an inconsistency, forces are initiated to return the individual to an equilibrium state where attitudes and behaviour are again consistent. This can be done by either altering the attitude or the behaviour or by developing a rationalization for the discrepancy.
The cognitive consistency theories are concerned with inconsistencies that arise between related beliefs, bits of knowledge and evaluation about an object or an issue. Though various consistency theories differ in several respects, all of them have a common object that is reducing the inconsistency and returning the individual to the equilibrium state.
- Functional Theory
The functional theory considers how attitudes and efforts are related to the motivational structure of the individual.
This theory focuses on two things:
(i) The meaning of the influence situation in terms of both the kinds of motives that it arouses and
(ii) The individual’s method of coping and achieving his goals.
An understanding of the functions served by attitudes is important for attitude change procedures since a particular method may produce change in individuals whose attitudes serve one particular function, but may produce no change in individuals for whom the attitudes serve a different function.
The most prominent person who visualized functional theory is Katz and he suggested four functions of attitudes. However, Katz functional theory has not stimulated much research except for the work on changing ego defensive attitudes.
Kelman has given another approach about the functional approach of attitudes.
He has distinguished three processes of attitude formation and change:
(ii) Identification and
This theory is directed towards the types of social relationships that occur in social influence situations.
Compliance occurs when an attitude is formed or changed in order to gain a favourable impression from other person or group.
Identification occurs when a person forms or changes his attitude because this adoption helps him establish or maintain a positive self defining relationship with the influencing agent.
Internalization involves adopting an attitude because it is congruent with one’s overall value systems.
This approach makes an important contribution towards an understanding of the conditions that influence the maintenance and stability of attitude change.
- Social Judgment Theory
The social judgment theory was originally formulated by Sherif and Hoveland. This theory attempts to explain how existing attitudes produce distortions of attitude related objects and how these judgments mediate attitude change. Thus, a person’s initial attitude towards an issue, serves as an anchor for the judgment of attitude related stimuli. The person’s initial attitude on an issue provides a point of reference against which he evaluates other opinions.
These views can be considered in terms of attitudinal continuum and can be considered as comprised of latitudes. The latitude of acceptance, which is the range of opinions the individual finds acceptable, encompasses the opinion that best characterises his own stand. The attitude of rejection, which is the range of opinions the individual finds objectionable, encompasses the opinion he finds most objectionable. The attitude of non-commitment is the range of opinions that the person finds neither acceptable nor unacceptable.
Attitudes are associated beliefs and behaviors towards some object. They are not stable, and because of the communication and behavior of other people, are subject to change by social influences, as well as by the individual’s motivation to maintain cognitive consistency when cognitive dissonance occurs—when two attitudes or attitude and behavior conflict. Attitudes and attitude objects are functions of affective and cognitive components. It has been suggested that the inter-structural composition of an associative network can be altered by the activation of a single node. Thus, by activating an affective or emotional node, attitude change may be possible, though affective and cognitive components tend to be intertwined.
These three processes represent the different levels of attitude change:-
Compliance refers to a change in behavior based on consequences, such as an individual’s hopes to gain rewards or avoid punishment from another group or person. The individual does not necessarily experience changes in beliefs or evaluations of an attitude object, but rather is influenced by the social outcomes of adopting a change in behavior. The individual is also often aware that he or she is being urged to respond in a certain way.
Compliance was demonstrated through a series of laboratory experiments known as the Asch experiments. Experiments led by Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College asked groups of students to participate in a “vision test”. In reality, all but one of the participants were confederates of the experimenter, and the study was really about how the remaining student would react to the confederates’ behavior. Participants were asked to pick, out of three line options, the line that is the same length as a sample and were asked to give the answer out loud. Unbeknown to the participants, Asch had placed a number of confederates to deliberately give the wrong answer before the participant. The results showed that 75% of responses were in line with majority influence and were the same answers the confederates picked. Variations in the experiments showed that compliance rates increased as the number of confederates increased, and the plateau was reached with around 15 confederates. The likelihood of compliance dropped with minority opposition, even if only one confederate gave the correct answer. The basis for compliance is founded on the fundamental idea that people want to be accurate and right.
Identification explains one’s change of beliefs and affect in order to be similar to someone one admires or likes. In this case, the individual adopts the new attitude, not due to the specific content of the attitude object, but because it is associated with the desired relationship. Often, children’s attitudes on race, or their political party affiliations are adopted from their parents’ attitudes and beliefs.
Internalization refers to the change in beliefs and affect when one finds the content of the attitude to be intrinsically rewarding, and thus leads to actual change in beliefs or evaluations of an attitude object. The new attitude or behavior is consistent with the individual’s value system, and tends to be merged with the individual’s existing values and beliefs. Therefore, behaviors adopted through internalization are due to the content of the attitude object.
The expectancy-value theory is based on internalization of attitude change. This model states that the behavior towards some object is a function of an individual’s intent, which is a function of one’s overall attitude towards the action.