Attitude Psychology: Definition, Components, Types, Properties and Functions.

Attitude is everything.

Attitudes in Psychology: Definition, Components, Properties and Functions.

Meaning of Attitude in Psychology

  • Attitudes are evaluations of a particular person, group, action, or thing.
  • When you use words like; like, dislike, love, hate, good, bad, yuck, you are describing your attitudes
  • What you think about India? Is your attitude towards India.
  • An attitude is focused on a particular entity or object, rather than all objects and situation with which it is related.
  • Attitudes are evaluations and responding’s to social world.
  • In summery- Attitudes are generally positive/negative views of a person (including oneself) place, thing, or event (the attitude object).
  • For example
  1. An attitude towards the self is called self-esteem.
  2. Negative attitudes towards specific groups are called Prejudice.
  3. Attitudes towards individuals are called interpersonal attraction.
  4. Attitude towards own job is called job satisfaction.
  • So ‘What is your attitude towards lizards?’ just imagine.

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Attitudes Definition in Psychology

Allport (1935) defined attitude as “a mental and neural state of readiness, organised through experience, and exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual’s response to all objects and situations with which it is related”

Fishbein & Ajzen (1975) define an attitude as “a learned predisposition to respond in a consistently favorable or unfavorable manner with respect to a given object”.

Hogg & Vaughan (2005) defined an attitude is “a relatively enduring organization of beliefs, feelings, and behavioral tendencies towards socially significant objects, groups, events or symbols”

“An Attitude is a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor” (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993)

Types of Attitudes in Psychology

  1. Explicit attitudes-

  • Conscious and reportable
  • controllable and easy to report.
  • Many of our attitudes these types

2. Implicit attitudes

  • Uncontrollable and perhaps not consciously accessible to us
  • Either unwilling or unable to report.
  • Implicit Association Test (IAT) developed by Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwarz (1998) A method for assessing these is implicit attitudes

Components of Attitude Or ABCs Of Attitude in Psychology

It is also called as multidimensional or tricomponent view of attitudes in psychology.

Following 3 components represent the basic building blocks of attitudes.

ABCs of attitudes:

  1. Affect (feelings),
  2. Behaviour (tendency to act)
  3. Cognition (thoughts)
  1. Affective component of attitude

It contains a person’s feelings / emotions about the attitude object.

Emotions like – fear, humour, and anger empathy, hate, like, dislike, pleasure, jealousy, disgust, indignation, etc. Feelings can vary in intensity.

Such feelings form from our experiences (or observing experiences) and serve to guide our future behaviour.

Emotion works with the cognitive process.

Emotional appeals are commonly found in advertising, health campaigns and political messages.

It can be used in a persuasive appeal.

Research found out that affect plays a vital role in attitude formation.

Affect is a common component in attitude change, persuasion, social influence, and even decision making. How we feel about an outcome may override purely cognitive rationales.

  1. Behavior component of attitude

A tendency or a predisposition to act in a certain manner the way the attitude we have influences on how we act or behave.

Behavior is different from a behavioral tendency. Because such behavioral tendency may not actually be predictive of your actual behavior. Behaviors are defined as overt actions of an individual. It means your intention to behave in a certain way may or may not translate into how you actually behave.

For example, you could develop a positive attitude towards a product that you see on television (belt ad) without developing any beliefs about it (you may lack knowledge about it and hence don’t know if it will really work) or ever engaging in any purchase behavior.

Exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968)- The tendency to develop more positive feelings towards objects and individuals, the more we are exposed to them. It demonstrated that we can develop a positive attitude towards a product simply by repeatedly being exposed to it.

  1. Cognition component of attitude

It comprises of our thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and ideas about the attitudinal object

The term cognition literally means ‘to know’, ‘to conceptualize’, or ‘to recognize’. Hence the cognitive component of attitude is the storage component where we organise information about an attitude object.

When you form your opinion on the basis of available information and choose whether you have a favourable or unfavourable opinion on that.

When a human being is the object of an attitude, the cognitive component is frequently a stereotype, for e.g. ‘Punjabis are fun loving’.

To summarized , the overall structure of attitudes have three components. Most attitudes have all three components, they can be more strongly rooted in either the cognitive or the affective component. It is also possible that all three aspects are not always present in an attitude. Research indicates that not all three of these components need to be in place for an attitude to exist (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993).

Formation of Attitudes in psychology

Attitudes are mostly acquired as a result of various life experiences, influenced by genetic factors, etc.

  1. Classical Conditioning-

Pavlov’s dog experiment. He found out the repeated pairings of an unconditioned stimulus (bell) with a conditioned stimulus (dog), the latter acquires the capacity to evoke a conditioned response (salivation).

Classical conditioning can produce a positive/negative attitude towards a previously neutral object.

Arthur and Carolyn Staats (1958) systematically studied the classical conditioning of attitudes and found out the how association can form attitude.

  1. Instrumental Conditioning-

Thorndike (1911) and Skinner (1938). Found out, behaviors that are followed by positive outcomes tend to be strengthened, while followed by negative outcomes are suppressed.

3. Observational Learning-

When a person acquires new forms of behavior or thought simply by observing others is called observational learning.

For example, you might cultivate a negative attitude towards the college canteen if you saw somebody throwing up after having a meal there.

  1. Genetic Factors-

Waller, Keller and others indicates that our attitudes, at least a tendency to develop certain views about various topics or issues, are inherited.

For instance, Arvey et al. (1989) studied the level of job satisfaction of 34 sets of identical twins and found that approximately 30% of job satisfaction appears to be explainable by genetic factors.

Tesser (1993) has argued that hereditary variables may affect attitudes—

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Characteristics or Properties of Attitude in psychology

  1. Attitude Strength

Attitudes differ in strength.

Strong, central attitudes are refer to important attitude objects that are strongly related to the self. These attitudes are often related to important values.

Attitude strength involves several dimensions

  1. Certainty: How much the individual knows about the attitude object.
  2. Extremity: Extremity refers to the degree of favorableness or unfavourableness towards the attitude object. Example, John avoids touching a dog.
  3. Intensity –Intensity refers to the strength of the feeling, i.e. how strong is the emotional reaction provoked by the attitude object. For example, Sam grows pale even at the sight of a dog.
  4. Attitude origin: Attitudes shaped through direct experience are usually stronger than those formed without such experience.
  5. Personal Importance: The extent to which an individual cares i.e personal importance about the attitude. For example , if a new law is proposed that prohibits drinking below the age of 25 years, a 22 year old may react more strongly than  40 years old who is unaffected by the change in drinking


  1. Attitude Accessibility

Attitude accessibility refers to the easily the attitudes can be retrieved from memory,

in other words how readily available is an attitude about an object, issue, or situation.

Some attitudes are characterized by clear, univocal, and highly accessible cues in memory; but others are associated with weak, ambiguous and inaccessible cues.

Research has found highly accessible attitudes to be more predictive of different of behaviors such as voting and selection of consumer products than are attitudes low in accessibility.

For ellustration, Suppose you see a cockroach. You might have a very quick ‘yuck’ response. But if you are looking at a Thai restaurant to eat you need to think.

Factors affecting attitude accessibility:

  1. Attitude Importance- Importance can lead to more active seeking of attitude relevant information and that information, which can lead to greater accessibility.
  2. Affect Vs Cognitive EvaluationAffective evaluations are generally given faster than responses to cognitive evaluations, it means affect-based evaluations are more accessible
  3. Repeated Expression of The Attitude- Repeated expression of an attitude tends to make that attitude more accessible in the future (Powell & Fazio, 1984). Also, if an attitude object was initially evaluated positively, repeated attitude expression will cause positive object features

Past studies determined that accessible attitudes are more resistant to change. An accessible attitude is more likely to end in attitudinally consistent behaviour than a less accessible attitude of the same valence.

3.Attitude Ambivalence

People can also be conflicted or ambivalent (unsure) toward an object, meaning that they simultaneously have both positive and negative attitudes toward the object in question.

Attitude ambivalence refers to the fact that our assessments of objects, issues, events, or people are not always uniformly positive or negative; our evaluations are often mixed, consisting of both positive and negative reactions.

For illustration, object of ambivalence is food! Chronic dieters experience a conflict between two incompatible goals: one, they enjoy food and another, be slim.

Attitude ambivalence may also be the result of conflicting values. For Example,  attitude towards arranged marriages, one – you value obedience and adherence to parents; other, you value freedom and personal choice.

There is some evidence that as attitude ambivalence increases, attitude-behaviour consistency decreases (for e.g. Conner et al., 2003). Further, ambivalent attitudes are less accessible than non ambivalent ones. Individuals may recognize the underlying conflict associated with their attitudes and thus be less sure of their validity. This may lead people to conclude that they should try to avoid use of attitude. Higher ambivalence is also related to less extreme attitudes. As a matter of fact, research on attitude ambivalence originally came from interest in individuals who held neutral positions on some attitudes.

Research also shows that there are individual differences with the tendency for ambivalence.

Individuals with high need for cognition (who enjoy effortful cognitive processing and those who dislike ambiguity) tend to have lower levels of ambivalence than individuals lower on need for cognition.

Functions Of Attitudes in Psychology

Daniel Katz (1960) distinguishes four types of psychological functions that attitudes meet

  1. Utilitarian Function ( Instrumental Function)- of attitude

We develop certain attitudes towards objects that aid/ reward us. We want to increase rewards and reduce penalties. Katz says we develop positive attitudes towards those objects that are associated with rewards and develop negative attitudes toward those that are associated with punishment.

For example If you are from reserve category you will favor the political party that introduced such reservations. If you are not from reserve category  , you might develop a negative attitude towards the same party.

We are more likely to change our attitudes if doing so allows us to achieve our goals or avoid undesirable consequences

  1. Knowledge Function of attitude

We all have a need to attain some degree of meaningful, stable, clear, and organised view of the world. Attitudes satisfy this knowledge function by providing a frame of reference for shaping our world so that it makes sense. In cognitive perspective, attitudes serve as schemas that help us in organizing and interpreting social information.

For example – A tourist will prefer another country because news stories about unrest in particular country

  1. Ego-Defensive Function of attitude

Some attitudes assist to protect us from acknowledging basic truths about ourselves or the harsh realities of life. It can help a person cope with emotional conflicts and guard self-esteem.

As per psychoanalytic perspective, and assumes that attitudes serve as defense mechanisms

For example- you might do a bike stunt show your fearlessness.

  1. Value-Expressive Function of attitude

It is in humanistic perspective. Attitudes show who we are, and what we stand for.

For Illustration- You may buy an electric bike to protect environment.

  1. Social Identity Function of attitude

Added by  Katz, Shavitt (1989) it refers to the informativeness of attitudes for person impressions, or how much attitudes appear to convey about the people who hold them.

Shavitt and Nelson (2000) suggested that products tend to engage a utilitarian function to the extent that they are seen as expressing identity and values, the product is generally displayed in public or is visible to others, or the product is widely seen as symbolizing membership in a particular group.

For e.g. the purchase of an Indian flag on the Republic Day may be driven primarily by social identity goals.

In addition to investigating how attitude functions vary among people, current researches in the field also consider the possibility that different attitude objects may actually serve different functions for different people. For e.g. people purchase certain products to fulfill utilitarian needs (computers, television, etc.) and other products to satisfy value-expressive needs (for e.g. a particular brand of car).

To summaries, an attitude changes when it no longer serves its function, and the individual feels blocked or frustrated. Thus, those who are interested in changing other people’s attitudes must first determine what functions those attitudes serve for the targeted individuals, and then use an appropriate approach.

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References for Attitudes in Social Psychology

Baron, R. A., Branscombe, N. R., & Byrne, D. (2009). Social Psychology, 12th Ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon

Myers, D. G. (2006). Social Psychology. (8th edi.), Tata McCraw- Hill Publication.

2 Replies to “Attitude Psychology: Definition, Components, Types, Properties and Functions.”

  1. In your given example for attitudes, what are the negative attitudes towards a particular group is called?
    the terminology is missing there

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