Attitude – Concepts Made Simple; With Examples

Beliefs, values, and attitudes - What is attitude? Concepts made simple Attitudes are views, beliefs, or evaluations of people about something (the attitude object). The attitude object can be a person, place, thing, ideology, or an event. Attitudes can be positive or negative.

Eg: I hate men with long hair.

In the above example, the person is having a negative attitude towards men who grow long hair.

Attitudes vs Values

Attitude vs Values

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Both Attitudes and Values are the beliefs (views) of a person.

However, attitude is the belief (views) of a person towards ‘something’.


“I hate spiders”

“I like Oranges.”

“I don’t like Hatchback cars”

“I love people with French beard” etc.

Thus you can see that attitude is all about whether you like or dislike something.

Value is also a belief (about what is important), but it’s not towards anything.

Value can exist in itself.

Eg: Oranges, French beard etc.

Then how is attitude connected with value? Answer: Attitude is the view of a person regarding a value.

Can you change a person’s attitude? (Or even your own attitude?)

Can you change a person's attitude?


Due to the influence of the society, we all develop positive, negative, and neutral attitudes towards many things. (Eg: I hate XYZ religion). If our negative or neutral attitude is undesirable in a modern society, it should be changed to a positive attitude.

There are various techniques for changing a person’s attitude. Yes, that’s the beauty of this subject 🙂

We shall deal with each of them in detail.

Attitude: content, structure, and function

Attitude - content, structure, and functions

Attitudes are often the result of social influence, experience or upbringing. Attitudes have a powerful influence over behaviour. While attitudes are enduring, they can change, resulting in a change in behaviour as well.

For example – Only if the citizens of a country have a positive attitude towards cleanliness, campaigns such as Swatch Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) will succeed. Here, by various campaigns (advertisements), the government is trying to change the attitude of citizens, and hence to stop their behaviour of throwing wastes in public, open-defecation etc.

Attitude – Content

Beliefs, Values, Attitude, and Behaviour

Carl Jung, one of the founders of psychoanalysis, is of the opinion that the contents of the conscious and unconscious part of the mind are usually different. Accordingly, attitudes are classified as explicit and implicit.

Explicit Attitude (Conscious) – If a person is aware of his attitudes and how they influence his behaviour, then those attitudes are explicit. Explicit attitudes are formed consciously.

Implicit Attitude (Sub-Conscious) – If a person is unaware of his attitudes (beliefs) and how they influence his behaviour, then those attitudes are implicit. Implicit attitudes are formed sub-consciously.

Attitude – Structure

How are attitudes formed? Let’s say, for example, you like Honda cars. So you have a positive attitude towards Honda cars. How is this attitude formed?

Components of Attitude

ABC Model or CAB Model of Attitude

As per experts, three components – learning, emotions, and past behaviour – come together, and on the basis of it, we form an attitude.

This multicomponent model is known as the ABC Model or CAB Model. Let’s see the components of the CAB model.

  1. Cognitive Component – This involves the person’s learning, knowledge, beliefs, and thoughts about the attitude-object (in our case, Honda cars). For example, if you have learned previously that Honda cars give more than 20 km/litre mileage on petrol – that can create a positive attitude towards the brand.
  2. Affective Component – This involves a person’s feelings, emotions about the attitude object. For example, if owning a Honda car gives you pleasure and prestige, that will create a positive attitude about the brand.
  3. Behavioural Component (Conative Component) – This involves the past behaviours or experiences regarding the attitude object. For example, if you have previously owned or driven Honda cars and felt comfortable driving the same, that will create a positive attitude towards the brand. People hate cognitive dissonance, and hence try to align the present behaviour with past behaviour as well.

Thus, in short, to change an attitude you need to touch all components of that attitude ie. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioural.

Dimensions of Attitude: (1) Strength of Attitude

Strength of the attitude

Some attitudes are strong while some attitudes are weak. The strength with which an attitude is held is often a good predictor of behaviour. The stronger the attitude the more likely it should affect behaviour.

For example, consider that Muthu from Tamil Nadu as well as Rahul from Uttar Pradesh like the Tamil Film Actor Rajnikanth. However, the strength of the positive attitude of Muthu may be very high (10/10 if rated on a scale). Rahul, even though likes Rajnikanth, his positive attitude’s strength may not match the strength of the attitude of Muthu (6/10, if rated on a scale).

The very strong attitude of Muthu may get directly expressed in his behaviour in the form of hero-worship, intolerance of any negative comments, an extreme expression of emotions etc. However, even though Rahul has a positive attitude towards the Film actor, as his attitude is not as strong as Muthu, he may not exhibit strong behaviour as Muthu.

Dimensions of Attitude: (2) Accessibility of Attitude

The accessibility of an attitude refers to the ease with which it comes to mind. In general, highly accessible attitudes tend to be stronger.

Dimensions of Attitude: (3) Attitude ambivalence

The ambivalence of an attitude refers to the ratio of positive and negative evaluations that make up that attitude. The ambivalence of an attitude increases as the positive and negative evaluations get more and more equal.

One dimensional view of attitude vs Two-dimensional view of the attitude

One-dimensional view of attitude vs Two-dimensional view of the attitude

The one-dimensional view – It postulates that the positive and negative elements are stored at opposite ends of a single dimension. according to this one-dimensional perspective, the positive and negative elements are at opposite ends of a single dimension, and people tend to experience either end of the dimension or a location in between.

The two-dimensional view – It postulates that positive and negative elements are stored along two separate dimensions. If this view is correct, then people can possess any combination of positivity or negativity in their attitudes.

Attitude – Functions

Attitude Functions Explained

Attitudes are important because they can guide thought, behaviour, and feelings. If you hold some attitudes, it might be useful to you. Attitudes help to mediate between a person’s internal needs (Eg: self-expression) and the external environment. Thus, attitude helps people to achieve their basic goals.

Daniel Katz classified attitudes into different groups based on their functions

  1. Knowledge function: knowing one’s or other’s attitude imparts knowledge.
  2. Ego-defensive function: attitudes can help people protect their self-esteem and avoid depression.
  3. Ego-expressive function: used to express one’s core values or beliefs.
  4. Instrumental function: helps to choose what is rewarding (and also avoid punishment).
  5. Social Acceptance function: adapt to the socially approved attitudes of a larger group.

Now let’s take a look at each of these functions in detail.

1. Knowledge Function

As we discussed in the beginning, attitude is all about what a person likes or dislikes.

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

Attitude thus 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.

The knowledge function refers to our need for a world which is consistent and relatively stable. In short, attitudes serves the function of providing meaning (knowledge) for life.

2. Ego-defensive Function

Not everyone can do everything. This is a truth.

However, attitude (like/dislike), can mask this truth to protect your ego.

For example, you may not be able to play football like Messi. However, instead of accepting this truth, to protect your self-esteem you can say that you don’t like football, and you are interested only in intellectual activities 🙂

Positive attitudes towards ourselves, just like the example above, have a protective function (i.e. an ego-defensive role) in helping us preserve our self-image. Otherwise, we might fall into depression.

3. Ego Expressive Function (Value Expressive/Self Expressive)

The attitudes we express (what we like or dislike) helps to express who we are, what are our basic values, and what we stand for. This (1) help communicate who we are and (2) may make us feel good because we have asserted our identity.  Self-expression of attitudes can be non-verbal too.

Therefore, our attitudes are part of our identity.

4. Instrumental Function (Utilitarian)

People develop positive attitudes towards objects associated with rewards, and negative attitudes towards those associated with punishments.

For example, as tax-evasion attracts punishments, a person may not favour evading taxes, and start paying taxes properly.

Note: Any attitude that is adopted in a person’s own self-interest is considered to serve a utilitarian function.

5. Social Acceptance Function (Identity/Adaptive)

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

For example, decoration of the house with Diwali lights.

Adaptive functions help us fit in with a social group. People seek out others who share their attitudes and develop similar attitudes to those they like.

Attitude’s Influence and Relation with Thought and Behaviour

Attitude-Behaviour Relationship

We tend to assume that people behave according to their attitudes. However, social psychologists have found that attitudes and actual behaviour are not always perfectly aligned.

Case 1 – Attitude ≠ Behaviour

For example, take the case of elections. Plenty of people may support a particular candidate, but they may not take the pain to go out and vote for him, despite their names being there on the electoral roll.

There is another famous example in relation to this. It is connected with the prejudice (negative attitude) Americans once had against the Chinese.

Here it is:

Richard LaPierre Experiment - Will you accommodate the Chinese

In the days when Americans were said to be prejudiced against the Chinese, Richard LaPierre, an American social psychologist, conducted the following study.

He asked a Chinese couple to travel across the United States, and stay in different hotels. They were all given accommodation by the different hotels (there was only one instance during these occasions they were refused service by one of the hotels).

Sometime later, LaPierre sent out questionnaires to managers of hotels and tourist homes in the same areas where the Chinese couple had travelled, asking them if they would give accommodation to Chinese guests.

A very large percentage (91%) said that they would not do so.

This response showed a negative attitude towards the Chinese, which was inconsistent with the positive behaviour that was actually shown towards the travelling Chinese couple.

Thus, attitudes may not always predict the actual pattern of one’s behaviour. To be more precise, the LaPierre’s study shows that the cognitive and affective components of attitudes (e.g. disliking Chinese people) do not necessarily coincide with behaviour (e.g. serving them).

Case 2 – Behaviour ≠ Attitude

Behavioural component (remember the CAB model) is generally the most visible component of our attitude. However, some people can hide the same. We have seen that in the American/Chinese case study example (above). Here a negative attitude was masked by people to show a positive behaviour.

There can also be instances where a negative behaviour to co-exist with a positive attitude. This occurs usually when the positive attitude is not strong enough. For example, consider a person with a positive attitude of not to jump queues. However, when he sees everyone around him does the same, he may think he will lose, if not jump queues. Thus he may behave opposite to his original attitude – which we can call as weak positive.

Case 3 – Attitude = Behaviour

Psychologists have found that there would be consistency between attitudes and behaviour when:

  • the attitude is strong, and it occupies a central place in the attitude system.
  • the person is aware of her/his attitude.
  • there is very little or no external pressure on the person to behave in a particular way. For example, when there is no group pressure to follow a particular norm.
  • the person’s behaviour is not being watched or evaluated by others.
  • the person thinks that the behaviour would have a positive consequence, and therefore, intends to engage in that behaviour.

Note: Persons with high integrity usually show a direct relation between attitude and behaviour.

Case 4 – Behaviour = Attitude

People dislike Cognitive Dissonance. 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 behaviours.

This means they prefer their attitude and behaviour to be aligned in the same direction. By giving incentives to behave contrary to the attitude, Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith (study in 1954), proved that the first attitude can be changed to suit their external behaviour.

How can you change one’s attitude (or your attitude)?

How can you change the attitude or behaviour of people?

Attitude change occurs anytime an attitude is modified. Thus, change occurs when a person goes from being positive to negative, from slightly positive to very positive, or from having no attitude to having one. The various theories that can be used include:

Learning Theory of Attitude Change: Classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning can be used to bring about attitude change.

(1) Classical conditioning – create positive emotional reactions to an object, person, or event by associating positive feelings with the target object.

(2) Operant conditioning – strengthen desirable attitudes and weaken undesirable ones.

(3) Observational learning – let people observe the behaviour of others so that they change their attitude.

Elaboration Likelihood Theory of Attitude Change (The theory of persuasion): This theory of persuasion suggests that people can alter their attitudes in two ways.

First, they can be motivated to listen and think about the message, thus leading to an attitude shift.

Or, they might be influenced by the characteristics of the speaker, leading to a temporary or surface shift in attitude. Messages that are thought-provoking and that appeal to logic are more likely to lead to permanent changes in attitudes.

Dissonance Theory of Attitude Change:

As mentioned earlier, people can also change their attitudes when they have conflicting beliefs about a topic (cognitive dissonance). In order to reduce the tension created by these incompatible beliefs, people often shift their attitudes. In the earlier example, the dissonance was created by giving an incentive to change the behaviour, and thus attitude was also changed accordingly.

Moral and Political Attitudes

Moral Attitudes are attitudes of individuals towards moral issues, while political attitudes are attitudes of individuals towards political issues. We shall see them in detail.

Moral Attitude

Do you support Cloning? What is your moral attitude?

Attitude is about what you like, and morals are about (what society thinks as) right or wrong. So Moral Attitude is the attitude you hold towards moral issues (where society debates what is right or wrong).

For example – what is your attitude towards Euthanasia (mercy killing)? Do you think it as right?

There are a lot of moral issues currently – reproductive cloning, surrogate motherhood, abortion, sex selection, pornography, prostitution, dance bars, euthanasia, capital punishment, homosexuality, live-in relationships, incest, divorce, honour killing, consumerism, owning personal weapons, gambling, prohibition etc being some of them. Your attitude towards these issues comes under the broad category of moral attitude. (Don’t miss our ethics notes – go to the dimensions of ethics, in where we deal with Applied ethics).

Political Attitude

The political spectrum - what is your political attitude

Moral Attitude is the attitude you hold towards political issues or ideologies. For example, what is your view of the reservation? It is time that India should stop giving reservations? Your attitude towards reservation is a political attitude.

Let’s take another example. What is your view on Communism? Do you like the ideology of Communism? Do you prefer the concept of no-state and market control? Or do you prefer a free market?

Can you think of some other examples of political issues or ideologies?

Attitude towards patriotism, democracy, plebiscite, reservation for women, eunuchs, equality, secularism, socialism, communism, scheduled castes and other minorities in politics, communalism, ideals of transparency and accountability, corruption, voting, political parties etc. comes under the broad umbrella of political attitude.

Also, your attitude towards the basic politic spectrum – left or right – comes under your political attitude.

Social influence and persuasion

The study of social influence phenomena lies at the very heart of social psychology. Persuasion is one form of social influence. We shall discuss these topics in detail, as a separate post later. It’s quite interesting to know how society influences us. Now let’s focus on the key concepts.

Social Influence

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Social influence refers to the ways people influence the attitudes, values, beliefs, feelings, and behaviours of others. Each day we are bombarded by countless attempts by others to influence us.

Consider our daily exposure to radio and television commercials, newspaper ads, direct requests, influence attempts by salespersons, politicians, and so forth.

Theorists have broadly classified the social influence into three forms – conformity, compliance, and obedience. The key difference between them is as below.

  1. Conformity – Behavior change in response to real or imagined social pressure.
  2. Compliance –  Behavior change in response to an explicit request to perform some action.
  3. Obedience – Behavior change in response to an Extreme pressure demand to perform some action.

Social influence varies according to how much pressure is involved. Imitation involves no pressure, conformity involves peer pressure, compliance involves an explicit request to perform some behaviour, and obedience is a response to a direct order to perform some action.

In other words, Imitation is the behaviour change in the absence of social pressure. The pressure for a behavioural change increases from Conformity → Obedience. Obedience the most direct form of social influence, Conformity is the most indirect form of social influence; compliance is in-between the two.

Social Persuasion

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan - Social Influence and Persuasion

Persuasion refers to an active attempt to change another person’s attitudes, beliefs, or feelings, usually via some form of communication. Typically, persuasion is treated as a form distinct from that of the other three forms of social influence. As you can rightly guess, it is more related to conformity and compliance.

Persuasion is an active form of influence and is internal in its focus. Change in people’s beliefs or feelings is the goal of such influence.

Systematic persuasion is the process through which attitudes or beliefs are leveraged by appeals to logic and reason. Heuristic persuasion, on the other hand, is the process through which attitudes or beliefs are leveraged by appeals to habit or emotion.

To sum up:

  • Attitude is your view or belief about what you like or dislike.
  • You may note that attitude always comes with a positive or negative emotion.
  • Attitude has 3 components – cognitive, affective, and behavioural.
  • The affective (emotional) component may even overcome negative cognitive rationales (if any).
  • It’s good to have positive attitudes – and it serves many functions.
  • Attitude is internal while behaviour is external.
  • Attitudes and actual behaviour are not always perfectly aligned.
  • It is possible to change the attitude and thus behaviour.
  • The theories of learning, persuasion, or dissonance can be used to bring an attitudinal or behavioural change.
  • Social Influence and Persuasion can change attitude or behaviour of people.
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