Attitude (psychology)

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This article is about the psychological construct. For other uses of attitude, see Attitude.

An attitude is an expression of favor or disfavor toward a person, place, thing, or event (the attitude object). Prominent psychologist Gordon Allport once described attitudes "the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology.".[1] Attitude can be formed from a person's past and present.[2] Attitude is also measurable and changeable as well as influencing the person's emotion and behavior.

In lay language, attitude may refer to the distinct concept of mood, or be especially synonymous with teenage rebellion.


An attitude can be defined as a positive or negative evaluation of people, objects, event, activities, ideas, or just about anything in your environment, but there is debate about precise definitions. Eagly and Chaiken, for example, define an attitude "a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor."[3] Though it is sometimes common to define an attitude as affect toward an object, affect (i.e., discrete emotions or overall arousal) is generally understood to be distinct from attitude as a measure of favorability.[4]

This definition of attitude allows for one's evaluation of an attitude object to vary from extremely negative to extremely positive, but also admits that people can also be conflicted or ambivalent toward an object meaning that they might at different times express both positive and negative attitude toward the same object. This has led to some discussion of whether individual can hold multiple attitudes toward the same object.[5]

Whether attitudes are explicit (i.e., deliberately formed) versus implicit (i.e., subconscious) has been a topic of considerable research. Research on implicit attitudes, which are generally unacknowledged or outside of awareness, uses sophisticated methods involving people's response times to stimuli to show that implicit attitudes exist (perhaps in tandem with explicit attitudes of the same object). Implicit and explicit attitudes seem to affect people's behavior, though in different ways. They tend not to be strongly associated with each other, although in some cases they are. The relationship between them is poorly understood.

On the other hand, the Iterative Reprocessing (IR) Model takes an integrated approach to understanding attitudes instead of distinguishing between implicit and explicit attitude. According to the IR model (Cunningham & Zelazo, 2007; Cunningham, Zelazo, Packer, & Van Bavel, 2007), attitudes are characterized as evaluation, which refers to process of unfolding an emergent property of multiple processes during a period of time. According to the theory, it is differences in information processing, not different attitudinal representations stored in discrete memory systems, that cause differences in evaluation (Van Bavel, Xiao, & Cunningham, 2012). The IR model proposes a connectionist framework. In this frame work, attitudes are defined as stable unit weights, whereas evaluations refer to the current pattern of activation of the units (Cunningham et al., 2007). Unit weights consist of valence and intensity (Van Bavel et al., 2012). Depending on the level of valence and intensity, the extent to which evaluation is influenced by context, motivation, and goals will be different (Van Bavel et al. 2012). The IR model suggests the involvement of numerous interactive neural systems in processing information (Van Bavel et al., 2012). According to the model, information is processed in a form of hierarchy. Iterations will be added to move to the next evaluative processing (Van Bavel et al., 2012). This model provides a greater understanding of how contextual information and motivational factors affect all stages of evaluative system including the prior states. In sum, instead of treating attitudes as two independent representations in memory, the model suggests that attitude refers to processing emergent properties in concert with contextual information and goal setting in a hierarchical order.

Jung's definition[edit]

Attitude is one of Jung's 57 definitions in Chapter XI of Psychological Types. Jung's definition of attitude is a "readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way" (Jung, [1921] 1971:par. 687). Attitudes very often come in pairs, one conscious and the other unconscious. Within this broad definition Jung defines several attitudes.

The main (but not only) attitude dualities that Jung defines are the following.

In addition, Jung discusses the abstract attitude. “When I take an abstract attitude...” (Jung, [1921] 1971: par. 679). Abstraction is contrasted with creationism. “CREATIONISM. By this I mean a peculiarity of thinking and feeling which is the antithesis of abstraction” (Jung, [1921] 1971: par. 696). For example: "I hate his attitude for being Sarcastic."


Many measurements and scales are used to examine attitudes. Attitudes can be difficult to measure because measurement is arbitrary, meaning people have to give attitudes a scale to measure it against, and attitudes are ultimately a hypothetical construct that cannot be observed directly.

Following the explicit-implicit dichotomy, attitudes can be examined through direct and indirect measures.


Explicit measures tend to rely on self-reports or easily observed behaviors. These tend to involve bipolar scales (e.g., good-bad, favorable-unfavorable, support-oppose, etc.).[6] Explicit measures can also be used by measuring the straightforward attribution of characteristics to nominate groups, such as "I feel that baptists are....?" or "I think that men are...?"[7] Likert scales and other self-reports are also commonly used.


Implicit measures are not consciously directed and are assumed to be automatic, which may make implicit measures more valid and reliable than explicit measures (such as self-reports). For example, people can be motivated such that they find it socially desirable to appear to have certain attitudes. An example of this is that people can hold implicit prejudicial attitudes, but express explicit attitudes that report little prejudice. Implicit measures help account for these situations and look at attitudes that a person may not be aware of or want to show.[8] Implicit measures therefore usually rely on an indirect measure of attitude. For example, the Implicit Association Test (IAT) examines the strength between the target concept and an attribute element by considering the latency in which a person can examine two response keys when each has two meanings. With little time to carefully examine what the participant is doing they respond according to internal keys. This priming can show attitudes the person has about a particular object.[9]


The classic, tripartite view offered by Rosenberg and Hovland [10] is that an attitude contains cognitive, affective, and behavioral components. Empirical research, however, fails to support clear distinctions between thoughts, emotions, and behavioral intentions associated with a particular attitude.[11] A criticism of the tripartite view of attitudes is that it requires cognitive, affective, and behavioral associations of an attitude to be consistent, but this may be implausible. Thus some views of attitude structure see the cognitive and behavioral components as derivative of affect or affect and behavior as derivative of underlying beliefs.[12]

Despite debate about the particular structure of attitudes, there is considerable evidence that attitudes reflect more than evaluations of a particular object that vary from positive to negative. Attitudes also have other characteristics, such as importance, certainty, or accessibility (measures of attitude strength) and associated knowledge.[13] Among numerous attitudes, one example is people's money attitudes which may help people understand their affective love of money motive, stewardship behavior, and money cognition. These ABC components of attitudes formulate, define, and contribute to an overall construct of Monetary Intelligence which, in turn, may be related to many theoretical work-related constructs.[14][15][16][17]

There is also considerable interest in inter-attitudinal structure, which connects different attitudes to one another and to more underlying psychological structures, such as values or ideology.[18]


Another classic view of attitudes is that attitudes serve particular functions for individuals. That is, researchers have tried to understand why individuals hold particular attitudes or why they hold attitudes in general by considering how attitudes affect the individuals who hold them.[19] Daniel Katz, for example, writes that attitudes can serve "instrumental, adjustive or utilitarian," "ego-defensive," "value-expressive," or "knowledge" functions.[20] The functional view of attitudes suggests that in order for attitudes to change (e.g., via persuasion), appeals must be made to the function(s) that a particular attitude serves for the individual. As an example, the "ego-defensive" function might be used to influence the racially prejudicial attitudes of an individual who sees themselves as open-minded and tolerant. By appealing to that individual's image of themselves as tolerant and open-minded, it may be possible to change their prejudicial attitudes to be more consistent with their self-concept. Similarly, a persuasive message that threatens self-image is much more likely to be rejected.[21]

Daniel Katz classified attitudes into four different groups based on their functions

  1. Utilitarian: provides us with general approach or avoidance tendencies
  2. Knowledge: help people organize and interpret new information
  3. Ego-defensive: attitudes can help people protect their self-esteem
  4. Value-expressive: used to express central values or beliefs

Utilitarian People adopt attitudes that are rewarding and that help them avoid punishment. In other words any attitude that is adopted in a person's own self-interest is considered to serve a utilitarian function. Consider you have a condo, people with condos pay property taxes, and as a result you don't want to pay more taxes. If those factors lead to your attitude that " Increases in property taxes are bad" you attitude is serving a utilitarian function.

Knowledge People need to maintain an organized, meaningful, and stable view of the world. That being said important values and general principles can provide a framework for our knowledge. Attitudes achieve this goal by making things fit together and make sense. Example:

Ego-Defensive This function involves psychoanalytic principles where people use defense mechanisms to protect themselves from psychological harm. Mechanisms include:

The ego-defensive notion correlates nicely with Downward Comparison Theory which holds the view that derogating a less fortunate other increases our own subjective well-being. We are more likely to use the ego-defensive function when we suffer a frustration or misfortune.


An example would concern attitudes toward a controversial political issue.


According to Doob (1947), learning can account for most of the attitudes we hold. The study of attitude formation is the study of how people form evaluations of persons, places or things. Theories of classical conditioning, instrumental conditioning and social learning are mainly responsible for formation of attitude. Unlike personality, attitudes are expected to change as a function of experience. In addition, exposure to the 'attitude' objects may have an effect on how a person forms his or her attitude. This concept was seen as the "Mere-Exposure Effect". Robert Zajonc showed that people were more likely to have a positive attitude on 'attitude objects' when they were exposed to it frequently than if they were not. Mere repeated exposure of the individual to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the enhancement of his attitude toward it.[22] Tesser (1993) has argued that hereditary variables may affect attitudes - but believes that they may do so indirectly. For example, consistency theories, which imply that we must be consistent in our beliefs and values. As with any type of heritability, to determine if a particular trait has a basis in our genes, twin studies are used.[23] The most famous example of such a theory is Dissonance-reduction theory, associated with Leon Festinger, which explains that when the components of an attitude (including belief and behavior) are at odds an individual may adjust one to match the other (for example, adjusting a belief to match a behavior).[24] Other theories include balance theory, originally proposed by Heider (1958), and the self-perception theory, originally proposed by Daryl Bem.[25]


Main article: Attitude change

Attitudes can be changed through persuasion and an important domain of research on attitude change focuses on responses to communication. Experimental research into the factors that can affect the persuasiveness of a message include:

  1. Target Characteristics: These are characteristics that refer to the person who receives and processes a message. One such trait is intelligence - it seems that more intelligent people are less easily persuaded by one-sided messages. Another variable that has been studied in this category is self-esteem. Although it is sometimes thought that those higher in self-esteem are less easily persuaded, there is some evidence that the relationship between self-esteem and persuasibility is actually curvilinear, with people of moderate self-esteem being more easily persuaded than both those of high and low self-esteem levels (Rhodes & Woods, 1992). The mind frame and mood of the target also plays a role in this process.
  2. Source Characteristics: The major source characteristics are expertise, trustworthiness and interpersonal attraction or attractiveness. The credibility of a perceived message has been found to be a key variable here; if one reads a report about health and believes it came from a professional medical journal, one may be more easily persuaded than if one believes it is from a popular newspaper. Some psychologists have debated whether this is a long-lasting effect and Hovland and Weiss (1951) found the effect of telling people that a message came from a credible source disappeared after several weeks (the so-called "sleeper effect"). Whether there is a sleeper effect is controversial. Perceived wisdom is that if people are informed of the source of a message before hearing it, there is less likelihood of a sleeper effect than if they are told a message and then told its source.
  3. Message Characteristics: The nature of the message plays a role in persuasion. Sometimes presenting both sides of a story is useful to help change attitudes. When people are not motivated to process the message, simply the number of arguments presented in a persuasive message will influence attitude change, such that a greater number of arguments will produce greater attitude change.[26]
  4. Cognitive Routes: A message can appeal to an individual's cognitive evaluation to help change an attitude. In the central route to persuasion the individual is presented with the data and motivated to evaluate the data and arrive at an attitude changing conclusion. In the peripheral route to attitude change, the individual is encouraged to not look at the content but at the source. This is commonly seen in modern advertisements that feature celebrities. In some cases, physician, doctors or experts are used. In other cases film stars are used for their attractiveness.

Emotion and attitude change[edit]

Emotion is a common component in persuasion, social influence, and attitude change. Much of attitude research emphasized the importance of affective or emotion components. Emotion works hand-in-hand with the cognitive process, or the way we think, about an issue or situation. Emotional appeals are commonly found in advertising, health campaigns and political messages. Recent examples include no-smoking health campaigns and political campaign advertising emphasizing the fear of terrorism. Attitudes and attitude objects are functions of cognitive, affective and conative components. Attitudes are part of the brain’s associative networks, the spider-like structures residing in long term memory that consist of affective and cognitive nodes.

By activating an affective or emotion node, attitude change may be possible, though affective and cognitive components tend to be intertwined. In primarily affective networks, it is more difficult to produce cognitive counterarguments in the resistance to persuasion and attitude change.

Affective forecasting, otherwise known as intuition or the prediction of emotion, also impacts attitude change. Research suggests that predicting emotions is an important component of decision making, in addition to the cognitive processes. How we feel about an outcome may override purely cognitive rationales.

In terms of research methodology, the challenge for researchers is measuring emotion and subsequent impacts on attitude. Since we cannot see into the brain, various models and measurement tools have been constructed to obtain emotion and attitude information. Measures may include the use of physiological cues like facial expressions, vocal changes, and other body rate measures. For instance, fear is associated with raised eyebrows, increased heart rate and increase body tension (Dillard, 1994). Other methods include concept or network mapping, and using primes or word cues in the era .

Components of emotion appeals[edit]

Any discrete emotion can be used in a persuasive appeal; this may include jealousy, disgust, indignation, fear, blue, disturbed, haunted,and anger. Fear is one of the most studied emotional appeals in communication and social influence research.

Important consequences of fear appeals and other emotion appeals include the possibility of reactance which may lead to either message rejections or source rejection and the absence of attitude change. As the EPPM suggests, there is an optimal emotion level in motivating attitude change. If there is not enough motivation, an attitude will not change; if the emotional appeal is overdone, the motivation can be paralyzed thereby preventing attitude change.

Emotions perceived as negative or containing threat are often studied more than perceived positive emotions like humor. Though the inner-workings of humor are not agreed upon, humor appeals may work by creating incongruities in the mind. Recent research has looked at the impact of humor on the processing of political messages. While evidence is inconclusive, there appears to be potential for targeted attitude change is receivers with low political message involvement.

Important factors that influence the impact of emotion appeals include self efficacy, attitude accessibility, issue involvement, and message/source features. Self efficacy is a perception of one’s own human agency; in other words, it is the perception of our own ability to deal with a situation. It is an important variable in emotion appeal messages because it dictates a person’s ability to deal with both the emotion and the situation. For example, if a person is not self-efficacious about their ability to impact the global environment, they are not likely to change their attitude or behavior about global warming.

Dillard (1994) suggests that message features such as source non-verbal communication, message content, and receiver differences can impact the emotion impact of fear appeals. The characteristics of a message are important because one message can elicit different levels of emotion for different people. Thus, in terms of emotion appeals messages, one size does not fit all.

Attitude accessibility refers to the activation of an attitude from memory in other words, how readily available is an attitude about an object, issue, or situation. Issue involvement is the relevance and salience of an issue or situation to an individual. Issue involvement has been correlated with both attitude access and attitude strength. Past studies conclude accessible attitudes are more resistant to change.

Attitude-behaviour relationship[edit]

The effects of attitudes on behaviours represents a significant research enterprise within psychology. Two theoretical approaches have dominated this research: the theory of reasoned action[27] and, its theoretical descendant, the theory of planned behaviour,[28] both of which are associated with Icek Ajzen. Both of these theories describe the link between attitude and behaviour as a deliberative process, with an individual actively choosing to engage in an attitude-related behaviour. An alternative model, called MODE for "Motivation and Opportunity as Determinants" was proposed by Russell H. Fazio, which focuses on motivations and opportunities for deliberative attitude-related behaviour to occur. MODE is a Dual process theory that expects deliberative attitude-behaviour linkages - like those modeled by the theory of planned behaviour - only occur when individuals have motivation to reflect upon their own attitudes.[29]

The theory of reasoned action (TRA), is a model for the prediction of behavioural intention, spanning predictions of attitude and predictions of behaviour. The subsequent separation of behavioural intention from behaviour allows for explanation of limiting factors on attitudinal influence (Ajzen, 1980). The Theory of Reasoned Action was developed by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen (1975, 1980), derived from previous research that started out as the theory of attitude, which led to the study of attitude and behaviour. The theory was "born largely out of frustration with traditional attitude–behaviour research, much of which found weak correlations between attitude measures and performance of volitional behaviours" (Hale, Householder & Greene, 2003, p. 259).

The theory of planned behaviour was proposed by Icek Ajzen in 1985 through his article "From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behaviour." The theory was developed from the theory of reasoned action, which was proposed by Martin Fishbein together with Icek Ajzen in 1975. The theory of reasoned action was in turn grounded in various theories of attitude such as learning theories, expectancy-value theories, consistency theories,[2] and attribution theory.[3] According to the theory of reasoned action, if people evaluate the suggested behaviour as positive (attitude), and if they think their significant others want them to perform the behaviour (subjective norm), this results in a higher intention (motivation) and they are more likely to do so. A high correlation of attitudes and subjective norms to behavioural intention, and subsequently to behaviour, has been confirmed in many studies.[4]

A counter-argument against the high relationship between behavioural intention and actual behaviour has also been proposed, as the results of some studies show that, because of circumstantial limitations, behavioural intention does not always lead to actual behaviour. Namely, since behavioural intention cannot be the exclusive determinant of behaviour where an individual's control over the behaviour is incomplete, Ajzen introduced the theory of planned behaviour by adding a new component, "perceived behavioural control." By this, he extended the theory of reasoned action to cover non-volitional behaviours for predicting behavioural intention and actual behaviour.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Allport, Gordon. (1935). "Attitudes," in A Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. C. Murchison. Worcester, MA: Clark University Press, 789–844.
  2. ^ Allport, Gordon. (1935). "Attitudes," in A Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. C. Murchison. Worcester, MA: Clark University Press, 789–844.
  3. ^ Eagly, Alice H., and Shelly Chaiken. 1998. “Attitude Structure and Function.” In Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. D.T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fisk, and G. Lindsey, 269–322. New York: McGowan-Hill.
  4. ^ Ajzen, Ice k. 2001. “Nature and Operation of Attitudes.” Annual Review of Psychology 52: 27–58.
  5. ^ Wood, W. (2000). "Attitude Change: Persuasion and Social Influence". Annual Review of Psychology 51: 539–570. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.539. PMID 10751980.  edit
  6. ^ Olson, James M., Zanna, Mark P. (1993). Attitudes and Attitude Change. Annual Review of Psychology, 44:117-54.
  7. ^ Ferguson, T. J., (2004). Perceiving Groups: Prejudice, Stereotyping, & Discrimination. Retrieved from:
  8. ^ Whitley, B. E. (2010). The Psychology of Prejudice & Discrimination. United States: Wadsworth Engage Learning. 
  9. ^ Fazio, R. H. & Olson, M. A., (2003). Implicit Measures in Social Cognition Research: Their Meaning and Use. Retrieved from:
  10. ^ M. J. Rosenberg and C. I. Hovland, "Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Components of Attitudes." In M. J. Rosenberg, C. I. Hovland (eds.), Attitude Organization and Change: An Analysis of Consistency Among Attitude Components. New Haven: Yale University Press (1960).
  11. ^ Eagly, Alice H., and Shelly Chaiken. 1998. "Attitude Structure and Function." In Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. D.T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey, 269–322. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  12. ^ Fazio, Russell H., and Michael A. Olson (2003). Attitudes: Foundations, Functions, and Consequences. The Sage Handbook of Social Psychology. London: Sage.
  13. ^ Visser, Penny S., Bizer, George Y., and Krosnick, Jon A. (2006). Exploring the Latent Structure of Strength-Related Attitude Attributes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 38: 1-67.
  14. ^ Tang, T. L. P., & Liu, H. 2012. Love of money and unethical behavior intention: Does an authentic supervisor’s personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) make a difference? Journal of Business Ethics, 107 (3): 295-312.
  15. ^ Tang, T. L. P., & Sutarso, T. 2013. Falling or not falling into temptation? Multiple faces of temptation, monetary intelligence, and unethical intentions across gender. Journal of Business Ethics, 116 (3): 529–552.
  16. ^ Tang, T. L. P., & Tang, T. L. N. 2010. Finding the lost sheep: A panel study of business students’ intrinsic religiosity, Machiavellianism, and unethical behavior intention in a public institution. Ethics & Behavior, 20 (5), 352-379.
  17. ^ Chen, J. Q., Tang, T. L. P., & Tang, N. Y. 2013/in press. Temptation, monetary intelligence (love of money), and environmental context on unethical intentions and cheating. Journal of Business Ethics. DOI: 10.1007/s10551-013-1783-2
  18. ^ Tesser, A., and Shaffer, David R. (1990). Attitudes and Attitude Change. Annual Review of Psychology 41:479-523.
  19. ^ Eagly, Alice H., and Shelly Chaiken. 1998. “Attitude Structure and Function.” In Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. D.T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey, 269–322. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  20. ^ Katz, Daniel. 1960. “The Functional Approach to the Study of Attitudes.” Public Opinion Quarterly 24(2): 163.
  21. ^ Lapinski, Maria Knight, and Franklin J. Boster. (2001). Modeling the Ego-Defensive Function of Attitudes. Communication Monographs 68(3):314-324.
  22. ^ Zajonc, R. B. (1968). "Mr.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monograph Supplement 9: 1–27. 
  23. ^ Brandt, M. J., & Wetherell, G. A. (2012). What attitudes are moral attitudes? the case of attitude heritability. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 172-179 . Retrieved from
  24. ^ T.L. Brink (2008) Psychology: A Student Friendly Approach. "Unit 13: Social Psychology." pp 295 [1]
  25. ^ Carlson, for most (2010). Psychology: the Science of Behaviour. New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education. p. 488. ISBN 978-0-205-64524-4. 
  26. ^ Petty, R.E. & Cacioppo, J.T. (1984). The effects of involvement on responses to argument quantity and quality: Central and peripheral routes to persuasion. ' 'Journal of Personality and Social Psychology' ', 46, 69-81.
  27. ^ Ajzen I, Fishbein M. 1980. Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behaviour. Englewood-Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
  28. ^ Ajzen I. 1991. The theory of planned behaviour. Organization Behaviour and Human Decision Process. 50:179–211
  29. ^ Fazio, Russell H., and Tamara Towles-Schwen. (1999). The MODE Model of Attitude-Behaviour Processes. In Chaiken, Shelly, and Trope, Yaacov, Dual Process Theories in Social Psychology, New York: Guilford Press.

Further reading[edit]