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Attitude: Definition and Elaboration

  • Psychologists define attitude as a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way. This can include evaluations of people, issues, objects or events. Such evaluations are often favourable or unfavourable but they can also be uncertain at times.
  • Thus we often speak of “mixed feelings” about an individual or an event. An attitude is an expression of favour or disfavour toward a person, place, thing, or event (or the attitude object). Gordon Allport once described attitudes as “the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology.
  • Psychologists have also fine tuned this definition. According to Eagly and Chaiken, an attitude is “a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favour or disfavour.” The evaluations which people make can range from the extremely unfavourable to the extremely favourable, or can be more moderate. Attitudes can be mixed, and with regard to the same object, may vary from time to time.
  • Attitudes are classified as explicit and implicit. If a person is aware of his attitudes, and they influence his behaviour and beliefs, his attitudes are explicit. Explicit attitudes are formed consciously. A person is unaware of his implicit beliefs though these still have some influence on his beliefs and behaviours. Implicit attitudes are subconscious attitudes.
  • Carl Jung, one of the founders of psycho-analysis, defines attitude as a “readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way”. According to Jung, attitudes occur in pairs out of which one is conscious and the other unconscious. Within this broad definition, Jung defines several attitudes. He identifies the following pairs of attitudes.
Conscious Unconscious
Extroversion Introversion
Rational Irrational
Individual Social
Abstract Creative
  • Jung says that the contents of the conscious and the unconscious parts of the mind are usually different. Introverted individuals are self contained, inward looking and more concerned with their own thoughts than with the outside society.
  • Extroverted individual are outward looking and are keen to spend time in interacting with others. According to Jung, these are the two attitudinal poles or types.
  • Jung divides the rational attitude into two psychological functions i.e. thinking and feeling. He considers reason as an attitude. Logicians differ from this view. They regard logic as a set of objective rules for deriving logical implications of propositions. Another way of putting this is that logic enables us to validly draw conclusions from given premises. Logic is objective, and cannot be part of any subjective attitude.
  • Jung divides irrational attitudes into the two psychological functions of sensing and intuition. We can define ‘sensing’ as receiving impressions or data through sense faculties from the external world. These are processed in the mind and become perceptions. The theme of human sense perception is discussed both in psychology and philosophy. It is a controversial question.
  • Intuition or gut feeling is an elusive concept, hard to define. In commonsense, it stands for an innate extra logical insight. Thus, we sometimes speak of feminine intuition. Jung thinks that the four components — thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition — have their own individual attitudes.
  • As regards the distinction between individual attitudes, Jung includes various `—isms’ like socialism or conservatism in social attitudes. Finally, his distinction between abstract and creative attitudes could refer to the difference between intellectual analysis and artistic creation. But some of his distinctions may not fall within the more commonly understood concept of attitudes.

Attitude: Structure

  • Modern psychologists regard attitude as a complex, multidimensional construct. Construct means a theoretical concept. Multidimensional means that the theoretical concept consists of more than one component or ingredient.
  • Attitude has three components. These components are cognitive, affective and conative. Cognitive part consists of a person’s thoughts and beliefs about the subject. “Cognitive” means ‘relating to the process of acquiring knowledge through reason, intuition and perception’. The emotional (or affective) part consists of the feeling which the object, person, issue or event evokes.
  • ‘Affective’ means emotional. The behavioural part consists of the manner in which the attitude influences a person’s behaviour. Vonative’ in psychology means a mental process involving the will impulse, desire or resolve. In simple terms, it means ‘behavioural’. William J. McGuire proposed this classic, tripartite view of attitudes.
  • Researchers who made empirical studies could not, however, clearly isolate the thoughts, emotions, and behavioural intentions associated with a particular attitude.
  • There is often no consistency, as required by the tripartite view of attitudes, between cognitive, affective, and behavioural associations of an attitude. Some psychologists think that in attitude structure, the cognitive and behavioural components are products of the emotional component, and that behaviour is driven by underlying beliefs.
  • Although there is disagreement on the particular structure of attitudes, evidence shows that they reflect more than the positive and negative evaluations of a particular object. Attitudes have other features — like importance, certainty, or strength and associated knowledge.
  • Further, inter-attitudinal structure connects different attitudes to one another and to deeper psychological structures, such as values or ideology.

Attitude: Functions

  • In psychology (and in sociology), functionalism means a particular approach which theorists adopt for understanding social or psychological phenomena. In simple terms, they try to understand the purpose which the phenomenon under study serves in the society or in the personality of the individual.
  • For example, sociologists do not study religion in the manner in which theologians study it. Theotogious may study the details of the religious doctrine, its evolution, and how it can contribute to the spiritual progress of its followers. Sociologists will study it differently. They will examine how the religion contributes to social stability. That is the function of religion in society.
  • Psychologists study attitudes similarly considering how attitudes contribute to the overall well being of the individual. Attitudes perform various functions for the psychological and mental benefit of the individual. An individual’s attitudes often satisfy his particular psychological needs.
  • Men have not only physical but also psychological needs. Thus, men need a sense of self esteem. Otherwise, they will be demoralized.
  • This is called the functional aspect of an attitude since it performs a psychological function for the individual. Psychologists explore the general and particular attitudes of individuals by considering the manner in which an individual’s attitudes affect him. They ask, ‘what purposes in a psychological sense are served by the attitudes which an individual holds?’
  • According to Daniel Katz, a famous psychologist, attitudes can serve instrumental, adjustive or utilitarian, ego-defensive, value-expressive, or knowledge functions.
  • The functional view of attitudes has a bearing on how people can be induced to change their attitudes. Attitudinal changes are important in many contexts in society including in administration. One has to use persuasion to change the attitudes of people. We need to appeal to the function(s) that a particular attitude serves for the individual.


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