Attitude And Behaviour


Attitudes are beliefs/feelings that predispose our reactions to x (objects/people/events). They can be positively or negatively 'valenced' by:

  • our affect (how x makes us feel)
  • our behaviour (what we would do with x)
  • our cognition (what we think about x)

Factors in an Attitude

Attitude Strength

The durability/impact of an impact attitude is determined by a number of factors

  • Influenced by attitude importance
    • Personal relevance of attitude (i.e. do you see you the attitude as defining you)
  • Influenced by attitude accessibility
    • How often does the attitude come to mind (e.g anti-smoking might come to mind every time you see a cigarette butt).

Explicitness of Attitude

  • Explicit/Conscious Attitudes
    • Attitudes we acknowledge and are aware of
  • Implicit/Subconscious Attitudes
    • Attitudes that regulate behaviour unconsciously and automatically

Testing Implicit Attitudes

John Bargh did an experiment to study priming implicit behaviour, to see if we could bring out an expected behaviour.

Study: Participants (various ages) did a wordsearch with a lot of elderly-focussed words (e.g. age/old/cane/elderly). Participants were then shown the lift to leave, and their walk to the lift subtly timed.

Bargh found that participants who did this wordsearch (and had their believe about the elderly activated) walked slower than their non-primed counterparts. Participants were unaware of this speed difference.

Cognitive Complexity

The intricacy of our thoughts about our attitude towards an object (thoughts about an attitudinal object) affect the strength.

Tetlock (1989) found that politicians with an extreme viewpoint on an issue (strong left/right) had less attitudinal complexity than moderate politicians.

Attitudinal Ambivalence

The extent to which an attitudinal object is associated with conflicting responses - e.g. you love the effect of beer but hate the hangover.

This is emphasised with complex attitudes.


How internally consistent an attitude is (particularly cognitive/evaluative components) effects how strong it is.

Beliefs and feelings comprising an attitude frequently develop separately and change independently.

E.g., smokers’ knowledge about effects of smoking (educated early that it's bad for you) vs. feelings about smoking (gradually develop into liking it).

When Attitude Determines Behaviour

We think that attitude determines behaviour. For instance if we like doing x we will do x. However this only happens in the following situations:

  1. When there are minimal social pressures/outside influences
  2. When the attitude is specifically relevant to the behaviour (e.g. liking jogging means you'll jog, liking exercise doesn't necessarily)
  3. When we are explicitly aware of the attitude
  4. When the attitude is shared/endorsed by (important) others
  5. When the attitude is shaped by a (strong) personal experience

When Behaviour Determines Attitude

Minor Behaviours

Wells & Petty (1980) asked participants to either move head or vertical whilst listening to a radio editorial, and then asked how much they agreed with it. The nodding group agreed more than the headshaking group.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when holding conflicting beliefs - we need our attitudes to be consistent with our behaviours.

Because we can't change our past behaviour, we tend to change our attitude about a past event. E.g. being paid $1 f or $20 or a boring task, and then endorsing the task, the $1 participant will say they had more fun (because why else would they do the task?).