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An attitude is a belief or opinion about an object that may predispose an individual to act in certain ways. We have attiduce about many things—politics, religion, morality, other people, cats, dogs, different countries—the list is almost endless.

An attidue has three components:

  1. the affective,
  2. the behavioral, and
  3. the cognitive.
  • The affective component is the person’s emotions toward the object, especially positive or negative evaluations.
  • The cognitive component is what the person thinks about the object, including knowledge and beliefs.
  • The behavioral component is the predisposition to act.

Attitudes are related to behavior but do not always predict behavior. Put another way, people do not always behave in ways that they believe they would be perceived based on their attitudes.

Richard LaPiere (1934) conducted a classic study that demonstrated the possible disconnect between attitudes and behavior. In the 1930s, LaPiere travelded throughout the United States with a Chinese couple.

He expected that he and his companions would be banned from restaurants and hotels because of the prejudice that many Americans had against Asians at that time. However, his prediction turned out to be incorrect: out of 251 establishments, only 1 denied service to him and his companions.

When they returned home, LaPiere wrote letters to all 251 restaurants and hotels, asking the proprietors if they would provide food or logging to Asians. About half responded. Among them, 90 percent said that they would not serve Asians in their establishments. With this naturalistic study, LaPiere effectively demonstrated the minimal relationship that sometimes exists between attitudes and behavior.

As a number of researchers have argued or shown in research (e.g., Minard, 1952), in addition to attitudes, situational factors influence behavior.

The presence of situational factors can at least partly explain why attitudes do not always do a good job of predicting behavior.

For instance, in LaPiere’s study, his Asian companions were well dressed, carrying expensive luggage. Perhaps if they had appeared less wealthy or had been by themselves, rather thean traveling with a Caucasioan man, they would have been treated more poorly.

As mentioned earlier, attitudes can influence behavior (although not always as much as we would think). Additional research shows that one’s own behavior can also influence one’s own attitudes (e.g., Reiss, Kalle, & Tedeschi, 1981). Some researches and theorists explain how this can occur (e.g., Schauss, Chase, & Hawkins, 1997).

  • One explanation for behavior influencing attitudes is that people are motivated to experience consistency in their own minds, feeling tension (cognitive dissonance) from a lack of consistency, and therefore may change attitudes to conform with behavior.
  • A second explanation is that in many cases, people have not engaged in much introspection about their attitudes toward a particular object and therefore infer their attitudes from their behavior.
See also:
  1. Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980).Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  2. LaPiere, R. (1943). Attitudes vs actions. Social Forces, 13, 230 – 237.
  3. Minard, R. D. (1952). Race relations in the Pochontas Coal Field. Journal of Social Issues, 8, 29 – 44.
  4. Riess, M., Kalle, R.J., & Tedeschi, J.T. (1981). Bogus pipeline attitude assessment, impression management, and misattribution in induced compliance settings. Journal of Social Psychology, 115, 247 – 258.
  5. Schauss, S.L., Chase, P. N., & Hawkins, R. P. (1997). Environment-behavior relations, behavior therapy, and the process of persuation and attitude change. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 28, 31 – 40.