Attitude: Content, Structure, Function; its Influence and Relation with Thought and Behaviour; Moral and Political Attitudes; Social Influence and Persuasion.

What do you mean by attitude?

Attitudes are evaluations people make about objects, ideas, events, or other people.

Attitudes are lasting patterns of beliefs and opinions which predispose reactions to objects, events, and people.

Attitude can be defined as the “likes, dislikes of the individual, his positive or negative evaluation regarding people, objects, surroundings, events, world etc.” Attitude is something which keeps on changing according to our experiences. 

How are attitudes formed?

Direct Experience:- The primary means by which attitude towards goods & services are formed is through the consumer’s direct experience in trying & evaluating them. Recognizing the importance of direct experience, marketers frequently attempt to stimulate trial of new products by offering cuts-off coupons or even free samples. The marketer’s prime objective is to get consumers to try the new product and then to evaluate it. If the product proves rates factory, then it is likely that consumers will form positive attitudes and repurchase the product. This is what the advertisers and companies strive for.

Influence of Family and Friends:- As we come into contact with others, especially family, close friends & admired individuals (e.g. a respective teacher), we form attitude that influence our lives. The family is an extremely important source of influence on the formation of attitudes for it is the family that provides us with many of our basic values and a wide range of less central beliefs. The reason is family bonds are quite stronger than other groups.

Direct Marketing:- Marketers very carefully target customers on the basis oftheir demographic, psychographic or geo-demographic profiles with toughly personalized product offerings and messages that show this understand their special needs & desires. Direct marketing efforts have an excellent chance offavourably influencing target consumers attitude, because the products & services offered and the promotional messages conveyed are very carefully designed to address the individual segment’s needs & concerns..

Exposure to Mass Media:– In countries where people have easy access to newspapers and a variety of general & special interest magazines and television channels, consumers are constantly exposed to new ideas, products, opinions & advertisements. These mass media communications provide an important source of information that influences the formation of consumer attitudes.

Personality Factors:- Personality plays a crucial role in attitude formation. The individuals with a high need for cognition (i.e. those who crave information & enjoy thinking) are likely to form positive attitudes in response to ads or direct mail that is rich in product related information. On the other hand, consumers who are relatively low in need for cognition are more likely to form positive attitudes in response to ads that feature an attractive model or well-known celebrity. In a similar fashion, attitudes towards new products and new consumption situations are strongly influenced by specific personality characteristics of consumers.

Further-more, it is important to recognize that much that has been said about attitude formation is also basically true of attitude change. That is, attitude changes are learned, they are influenced by personal experience and other sources of information and personality affects both the receptivity and the speed with which attitudes are likely to be altered. 

Characteristics of Attitude

 Attitude have several important characteristics or properties namely, they

  • have an object;
  • have direction, intensity, and degree;
  • have consistency and
  • are learned

(v) attitudes Occurs Within a Situation.

Attitude Have an Object:

By definition, attitudes must have an object. That is, they must have a focal point – whether it be an abstract concept, such as “ethical behavior”, or a tangible item a such as a motorcycle. The object can be physical thing, such as a product, or it can be an action, such as buying a washing machine. In addition, the object can be either one item, such as a person or a collection of items such as a social group. It also can be either specific or general.

Attitude has Direction, Degree & Intensity:-

An attitude expresses how a person feels towards an object. It expresses

  • direction – the person is either favorable or unfavorable toward, or for or against the object
  • degree – how much the person either likes or dislikes the object, and
  • intensity –the level of sureness or confidence of expression about the object, or how strongly a person feels about his or her conviction. The direction, degree and intensity of a person’s attitude toward a product have said to provide marketers with an estimate of his or her readiness to act toward, or purchase the product.

Attitudes have consistency:-

Another characteristic of attitudes is that they are relatively consistent with the behavior they reflect however, despite their consistency, attitudes are not necessarily permanent; they do change.Normally, we expect consumer’s behavior to correspond with their attitudes. In other words, when consumers are free to act as they wish, we anticipate that their actions will be consistent with their attitudes.

However, circumstances often decide the consistency between attitude & behavior, e.g. if a Indian consumer reported preferring German over Japanese automobiles, we would expect that the individual would be more likely to buy a German Car when next in the market for a new car. But, the matter of affordability may intervene, and the consumer would find a particular Japanese car to be a more realistic choice than the German car. Therefore we must consider possible situational influences on consumer attitudes & behavior.

Attitudes Occur Within a Situation:-

Attitudes occur within and are affected by the situation. By situation, we mean events or circumstances that at a particular point in time influence the relationship between an attitude and consumers to behave in ways seemingly inconsistent with their attitudes. Indeed, individuals can have a variety of attitude toward a particular behavior, each corresponding to a particular situation.

How attitudes affect thought and behaviour?

An attitude is a predisposition to oneself, other persons, objects or tissues in a consistently favorable or unfavorable way. Because an attitude is a predisposition, it would seem that the more favorable one’s attitude is towards a product or service, the more likely that the product or service will be purchased.Attitude is important because attitudes reflect past experience and shape future behaviour.

The attitude -behavior relationship is not straight forward, although there may be close linkages. Attitude and behavioral intentions do not always lead to actual behavior & while attitudes and behaviors are expected to be consistent with each other, that is not always the case.

Similarly behavior can influence attitudes vice versa.

Here we can quote an example, that marketers know that a positive experience with the product or service reinforce a positive attitude or makes a customer question a negative attitude.

Specific attitudes are better predictors of behaviour than general ones.

Strong attitudes(strength is determined by how well the attitude object is recollect and brought to consciousness, how extreme the attitude is, or the degree of confidence in it are better predictors of behaviour than weak attitudes composed of little intensity or topical interest.

 • Direct experiences with the attitude object (when the attitude is formed, during repeated exposure or through reminders) produce behaviour more reliably.

 • Cognitive based attitudes influence behavior better than affect based attitudes than affect based attitudes. 

 • The influence of reference groups (interpersonal support, urges of compliance, peers pressure) & the individual’s inclination to conform to these influences improves the attitude-based linkage.  

Attitude behaviour consistency

Another variable that has an important influence on attitude-behavior consistency is the current cognitive accessibility of the underlying affective and cognitive components of the attitude.

For example, if we assess the attitude in a situation in which people are thinking primarily about the attitude object in cognitive terms, and yet the behavior is performed in a situation in which the affective components of the attitude are more accessible, then the attitude-behavior relationship will be weak.

Experiment 1

Wilson and Schooler (1991) showed a similar type of effect by first choosing attitudes that they expected would be primarily determined by affect—attitudes toward five different types of strawberry jam. Then they asked a sample of college students to taste each of the jams. While they were tasting, one-half of the participants were instructed to think about the cognitive aspects of their attitudes to these jams—that is, to focus on the reasons they held their attitudes, whereas the other half of the participants were not given these instructions. Then all the students completed measures of their attitudes toward each of the jams.

Wilson and his colleagues then assessed the extent to which the attitudes expressed by the students correlated with taste ratings of the five jams as indicated by experts at Consumer Reports. They found that the attitudes expressed by the students correlated significantly higher with the expert ratings for the participants who had not listed their cognitions first. Wilson and his colleagues argued that this occurred because our liking of jams is primarily affectively determined—we either like them or we don’t. And the students who simply rated the jams used their feelings to make their judgments. On the other hand, the students who were asked to list their thoughts about the jams had some extra information to use in making their judgments, but it was information that was not actually useful. Therefore, when these students used their thoughts about the jam to make the judgments, their judgments were less valid.

Experiment 2

MacDonald, Zanna, and Fong (1996) showed male college students a video of two other college students, Mike and Rebecca, who were out on a date. However, according to random assignment to conditions, half of the men were shown the video while sober and the other half viewed the video after they had had several alcoholic drinks. In the video, Mike and Rebecca go to the campus bar and drink and dance. They then go to Rebecca’s room, where they end up kissing passionately. Mike says that he doesn’t have any condoms, but Rebecca says that she is on the pill.

At this point the film clip ends, and the male participants are asked about their likely behaviors if they had been Mike. Although all men indicated that having unprotected sex in this situation was foolish and irresponsible, the men who had been drinking alcohol were more likely to indicate that they would engage in sexual intercourse with Rebecca even without a condom. One interpretation of this study is that sexual behavior is determined by both cognitive factors (“I know that it is important to practice safe sex and so I should use a condom”) and affective factors (“sex is enjoyable, I don’t want to wait”). When the students were intoxicated at the time the behavior was to be performed, it seems likely the affective component of the attitude was a more important determinant of behavior than was the cognitive component.

Why some attitudes are stronger than the others?

Some attitudes are more important than others, because they are more useful to us and thus have more impact on our daily lives.Strong attitudes are attitudes that are more cognitively accessible—they come to mind quickly, regularly, and easily. We can easily measure attitude strength by assessing how quickly our attitudes are activated when we are exposed to the attitude object. If we can state our attitude quickly, without much thought, then it is a strong one. If we are unsure about our attitude and need to think about it for a while before stating our opinion, the attitude is weak.

The importance of an attitude, as assessed by how quickly it comes to mind, is known as attitude strength (Fazio, 1990; Fazio, 1995; Krosnick & Petty, 1995). Some of our attitudes are strong attitudes, in the sense that we find them important, hold them with confidence, do not change them very much, and use them frequently to guide our actions. These strong attitudes may guide our actions completely out of our awareness (Ferguson, Bargh, & Nayak, 2005).

Attitudes become stronger when we have direct positive or negative experiences with the attitude object, and particularly if those experiences have been in strong positive or negative contexts. Russell Fazio and his colleagues (Fazio, Powell, & Herr, 1983) had people either work on some puzzles or watch other people work on the same puzzles. Although the people who watched ended up either liking or disliking the puzzles as much as the people who actually worked on them, Fazio found that attitudes, as assessed by reaction time measures, were stronger (in the sense of being expressed quickly) for the people who had directly experienced the puzzles.

Because attitude strength is determined by cognitive accessibility, it is possible to make attitudes stronger by increasing the accessibility of the attitude. This can be done directly by having people think about, express, or discuss their attitudes with others. After people think about their attitudes, talk about them, or just say them out loud, the attitudes they have expressed become stronger (Downing, Judd, & Brauer, 1992; Tesser, Martin, & Mendolia, 1995). Because attitudes are linked to the self-concept, they also become stronger when they are activated along with the self-concept. When we are looking into a mirror or sitting in front of a TV camera, our attitudes are activated and we are then more likely to act on them (Beaman, Klentz, Diener, & Svanum, 1979).

Attitudes are also stronger when the ABCs of affect, behavior, and cognition all line up. As an example, many people’s attitude toward their own nation is universally positive. They have strong positive feelings about their country, many positive thoughts about it, and tend to engage in behaviors that support it. Other attitudes are less strong because the affective, cognitive, and behavioral components are each somewhat different (Thompson, Zanna, & Griffin, 1995). My affect toward chocolate ice cream is positive—I like it a lot. On the other hand, my cognition are more negative—I know that eating too much ice cream can make me fat and that it is bad for my coronary arteries. And even though I love chocolate ice cream, I don’t eat some every time I get a chance. These inconsistencies among the components of my attitude make it less strong than it would be if all the components lined up together.

Use and Function of Attitude

Why do we hold attitudes?

What is the most basic psychological need served by attitudes?

How might knowledge of attitude functions influence choice of persuasive messages in advertising campaigns?

Do people vary in the functions of their attitudes?

 Individuals hold attitudes for a variety of reasons.

For example, our attitudes towards the Indian Cricket team developed from many of our friends and colleagues supporting the same team.

In contrast, our attitudes towards abortion are based on the value we place on an individual’s freedom of choice and the sanctity of human life.

Over the years, attitude researchers have devoted considerable attention to understanding the needs or functions that are fulfilled by attitudes.

Attitudes are energy-saving devices, because attitudes make attitude-relevant judgements faster and easier to perform.Highly accessible ie. strong attitudes are very helpful in taking decisions faster and acting upon them.This prediction is based on the assumption that strong attitudes guide relevant judgements and behaviour, whereas weak attitudes will have little effect during judgement and behaviour processes. Highly accessible attitudes increase the ease with which people make judgements.

 The most prominent models of attitude functions were developed almost 50 years ago (Katz, 1960; Smith,Bruner & White, 1956). Smith et al. (1956) suggested that attitudes serve three primary functions or needs: object appraisal, social adjustment and externalization.

 Object appraisal refers to the ability of attitudes to summarize the positive and negative attributes of objects in our social world. For example, attitudes can help people to approach things that are beneficial for them and avoid things that are harmful to them .

 Social adjustment is fulfilled by attitudes that help us to identify with people we like and to dissociate from people we dislike. For example, individuals may buy a certain soft drink because it is endorsed by their favourite singer.

Externalization is fulfilled by attitudes that defend the self against internal conflict. For example, bad golfers might develop an intense dislike for the game because their poor performance threatens their self-esteem.

In his own program of research, Katz (1960) proposed four attitude functions, some of which relate to those proposed by Smith et al. (1956): knowledge, utility, ego defence and value expression.

 The knowledge function represents the ability of attitudes to organize information about attitude objects, while the utilitarian function exists in attitudes that maximize rewards and minimize punishments obtained from attitude objects. These functions are similar to Smith et al.’s (1956) object-appraisal function.

Katz’s ego-defensive function exists in attitudes that serve to protect an individual’s self-esteem and is similar to Smith et al.’s (1956) externalization function. Finally, Katz proposed that attitudes may serve a value-expressive function, such that an attitude may express an individual’s self-concept and central values. For example, a person might cycle to work because she values health and wishes to preserve the environment.

 A number of themes have developed from research on attitude functions since the development of these theoretical perspectives. Here, we focus on two important developments.

First, evidence implies that strongly held attitudes fulfil an object-appraisal function.

Second, a distinction between instrumental attitudes (those that serve a utilitarian function) and symbolic attitudes (those that serve a value-expressive function) appears to be useful. 

In the following sections, we describe evidence regarding these observations. Object appraisal Smith et al.’s (1956) object-appraisal function (which combines aspects of Katz’s utilitarian and knowledge functions) perhaps best explains why people form attitudes in the first place. This function suggests that attitudes classify objects in the environment for the purposes of action.

Another program of research has revealed that the strength of the object-appraisal motivation is influenced by differences across people in the need for closure, which is a ‘desire for a definite answer on some topic, any answer as opposed to confusion and ambiguity’ (Kruglanski, 1989, p. 14). As applied to the study of attitudes, object appraisal reflects the notion that attitudes can provide such ‘answers’, because attitudes help people to make decisions about attitude objects. As a result, a high need for closure should increase the desire to form and maintain attitudes. Kruglanski and colleagues have tested this hypothesis in a number of studies.

In one study by Kruglanski, Webster and Klem (1993), some participants (who were either high or low in the need for closure) were initially given sufficient information that allowed them to form an attitude about a legal case, whereas other participants were not given this information (and were unable to forman initial attitude). Later, all participants were given additional information about the case. The results of the study revealed that the impact of the later information on participants’ final attitudes depended upon both participants’ level of need for closure and whether they had already formed an attitude towards the case.In contrast, if participants had not yet formed an attitude, those who were high in need for closure were more persuaded by new information than participants who were low in need for closure. Instrumental versus value-expressive attitudes .

Social influence

Social Influence and Attitude Change

Attitude Change can be motivated by concerns of

An individual is ready to change his attitude to fulfill his/her

conformist inclinations,

imitation of other people’s behavior,

and subordination when confronted with authority.


Changing attitudes through persuasion

Since attitude has two components to it namely the Affect and the Cognitive, any changes to attitude should address the affect and the cognitive sides.

Two different ways of attitude change can be found

  1. Spontaneous Attitude Change
  2. Thoughtful Attitude Change

Spontaneous Attitude Change:-

Since “affect” part of attitude is emotion driven, by invoking strong emotions in the target the person can be persuaded to change his firmly held attitude.This process of attacking the affect component of attitudes can be achieved in a short span of time and it is easier to change such attitudes. This process of persuasion is called as the Spontaneous attitude change. Desire and Fear can be effective tools in Spontaneous attitude change.

Eg. Persuading a smoker to quit smoking by showing Fearful pictures of Cancer.This strategy can immediately attack the “Affect” component of Attitude and can bring about an attitude change towards smoking.


Thoughtful Attitude Change:-

Strong attitudes that have been carefully built over a period of time by personal experience and deliberate thought rely upon “Cognition”. Such attitudes are firmly anchored and hence may not be easier to change.Changing such attitudes requires facts,logic and deep knowledge to overcome previously held knowledge about an object.This process of changing such firm strong attitudes is called as Thoughtful Attitude Change.

Eg. A car salesperson in TATA showroom has to change the attitude of Mr.Sharma to buy the TATA car. Mr. Sharma has already owned a German car and has a very strong positive attitude about German Cars. Hence the salesperson has to convince Mr. Sharma about the Mileage, top speed , comfort and safety aspects of the TATA car. This involves lot of facts and information about the TATA car that is conveyed to Mr. Sharma. Mr Sharma is not going to immediately be convinced about buying a TATA car. He sits down in his home and looks at the brochure provided. He makes a careful analysis of specs and all other features and then finally changes his attitude towards Indian Car. This requires time and the careful analytical thought from Mr. Sharma.