According to Milton Rokeach (1968) an attitude is “a learned orientation or disposition, toward an object or situation which provides a tendency to respond favourably or unfavourably to the object of situation”. Rokeach, attempted to differentiate between `instrumental values` and `terminal values`. Instrumental values consist of values such as being ambitious, broad-minded, obedient or self-controlled. Terminal values are factors such as world peace, freedom, salvation or self-respect. These values give individuals standards by which we motivate our behaviour.
Secord and Backman (1964) believed that there are three components to an attitude. The first being the Affective, this is described as the positive or negative emotions about something. The Behavioural consists of intending to behave with relevance to our attitudes. Lastly, the Cognitive, this is the process of thinking and interpreting or forming and using attitudes.
Katz (1960) believed that the two functions of an attitude were to interpret the world in which we live and process new information, and, provide a way of gaining and keeping social identity. Katz believed that there were a number of motives behind having attitudes; the knowledge function consists of giving meaning to our experiences. The adjustment function links our attitudes to social acceptability. The value expressive function communicates the positive aspects of our inner selves. And finally, the ego defensive function protects our unconscious motives and ideas.
Attitudes and behaviour however, do not always correlate. LaPierre (1934) studies a Chinese couple who stayed at a number of hotels and dined in many restaurants in the USA. In this period of time racial prejudice was very common in the USA. The couple were only refused service at one establishment. LaPierre wrote to all 250 establishments and asked if it would be acceptable to serve a Chinese couple, the responses to these letters showed that 92% of the establishments claimed that they would not be prepared to serve the Chinese couple. This is a classic example of how attitudes and behaviours are not also consistent.
Attitudes may form due to a various range of reasons. Classical conditioning may take place if it is repeatedly associated with the stimuli that evoke positive or negative feelings. Operant conditioning may occur if the behaviour is reinforced, the behaviour is therefore likely to be repeated and internalised Observational learning or imitation may also occur, reinforcement or condition thought observation as opposed to reinforcement.
There are several methods by which attitude change can be measured. The Social Balance theory, as proposed by Fritz Heider (1946) is the theory that individuals endeavour for a cognitive balance of likes and dislikes. This theory can be explained effectively using triadic relationships. An example of this is if an individual dislikes someone that their friend likes, there is not a balance and therefore a struggle to reach a balance. The individual may decide to make more of an effort and give the individual they dislike a second chance. This is a method of restoring the balance in the relationship. This theory is limited as it would be extremely difficult to predict the outcome of situations using this theory.
Leon Festinger (1957) proposed the Cognitive Dissonance Theory, consisting of an attitude of which an individual is aware of. Dissonance takes place when two cognitions contradict each other. Individuals are motivated to reduce the dissonance to avoid the conflicting thoughts. Dissonance can be eliminated by either changing the attitude to develop consistency or to attempt to gain more information to assure the individual that there is no inconsistency. Festinger et al (1956) researched on a woman named Mrs Keech. Mrs Keech claimed to have knowledge of a cataclysmic flood that which would hit the USA, she gathered a number of supported and advised them to give up their material possessions and gather on a hill for prayer. When the flying saucers did not appear, the group appeared to support Mrs Keech increasingly. This can be explained by Cognitive Dissonance, when the flying saucers failed to appear, instead of renouncing their beliefs they had an increased faith that their prayers had been answered.
Persuasive communication is another way in which attitude change may occur. Hovland, Janis and Kelley (1953) suggested that the rewards for changing an attitude must be or a higher level than the rewards of maintaining the original attitude. They believed that the credibility, professionalism, and attractiveness of the source of the information are just as important as the actual message itself. It is also effective if the source of the message has similarities with the recipient of this message.
Kelman and Hovland (1953) conducted a study in which participants were asked to listen to a lecture on the subject of juvenile delinquency. The lecture was given by one of three speakers. The speakers consisted of a high credibility juvenile court judge, a “dope peddler” with low credibility” and finally the third speaker was a neutral speaker. The results of this study showed that the speaker with the high credibility was identified to be more persuasive and more likely to persuade the audience effectively.
Friedman and Friedman (1979) asked participants to watch an advertisement for a 360 different products. Participants were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the adverts by rating them. The rating method was to fill out checklist with 20 words on it, such as “honest”, “powerful” and “likeable”. They were also asked to state how believable they thought the adverts were and the likelihood that they would purchase the product in subject. The results of this study showed that in the majority of cases, the celebrities were far more effective at endorsing products than either the ‘typical customers’ or the ‘professional’.
It is also believed that attitudes can be changed by “scaring” individuals into changing their attitudes. Janis and Feshback (1963) presented three groups of participants with information about dental hygiene. This information was intended to provoke mild, moderate or high levels of fear. The results showed that the post test measure of changes in attitude in the higher fear group was only 8%, the moderate fear was 25% and the mild dear was 32%. This suggests that the extreme levels of fear may have reduced the level of credibility and therefore was less believable. Leventhal et al (1965) found a positive link correlating the level of fear and attitude change regarding messages about tetanus.