How are attitudes formed? (3 pillars of attitude formation)

This blog post aims to answer the question, “How are attitudes formed?” and explore the concept of attitude and its different foundations to help understand how attitudes are formed. 

How are Attitudes Formed?

Attitudes are formed by direct experience, other people’s influence, or the media. Attitudes are built on the following three pillars –

  • Affect (Emotional Foundations of Attitudes).
  • Conduct (Behavioural Foundations of Attitudes).
  • Cognition (Cognitive Foundations of Attitudes). 

Furthermore, research shows that attitudes are formed by psychological needs (motivational foundations), social interactions (social foundations), and genetics (biological foundations), albeit the latter is a new and disputed concept.

What is Attitude?

An attitude is a strong expression of favourable, negative, or mixed feelings about something. It expresses one’s positive or negative opinion of a person, place, object, or event. 

These are critical drivers of how we perceive and respond to all elements of our social environment. Attitudes are made up of a complicated web of evaluative ideas, sentiments, and proclivities toward certain acts.

Our conduct toward anything is determined by how much we like or despise it. We gravitate toward, seek out, or associate with things we enjoy; we avoid, shun, or reject those we don’t.

This propensity or inclination, as well as the direction of this predilection, are the two fundamental parts of attitude. It is described as a mental state of preparedness that is structured via experience and has a directive or dynamic impact on responses.

These might be both explicit and tacit in nature. Explicit attitudes are those that we are aware of and that have a direct impact on our actions and beliefs. Although implicit attitudes are unconscious, they nonetheless have an impact on our beliefs and actions.

Characteristics of Attitude.

  • Attitudes are a complicated blend of personality, beliefs, values, actions, and motives.
  • It might be anywhere on a scale from extremely favourable to extremely negative.
  • Attitudes exist in everyone, regardless of their social level or IQ.
  • Every person’s thinking contains an attitude. It aids in the formation of our identities, the direction of our behaviours, and the way we assess others.
  • Although the feeling and belief components of attitude are personal, we may see a person’s attitude by their actions.
  • Attitude guides us in determining how we see things and how we respond to them.
  • Internal cognitions, ideas, and thoughts about people and objects are provided by it.
  • It can be both explicit and implicit in nature. Explicit attitudes are those that we are aware of, whereas implicit attitudes are unconscious yet nonetheless influence our actions.
  • Attitudes influence how we react to a certain thing or person.
  • An attitude is a synthesis of a person’s experiences; hence, an attitude based on firsthand experience is more accurate in predicting future behaviour.
  • It contains characteristics such as hobbies, admiration, and social behaviour.
  • It represents a man’s entire range of sentiments and tendencies.
  • A point of view, established or not, truthful or untrue, that one maintains toward a concept, object, or person is referred to as an attitude.
  • Direction, intensity, generality, and specificity are all components of it.
  • It refers to one’s willingness to work.
  • It can be good or negative, and age, position, and education can all influence it.

What are the 3 Pillars of Attitude Formation?

Affect (Emotional Foundations of Attitudes).

The effect or feeling linked with an attitude is an important component. We can tell if we like or dislike something, or whether a concept is pleasant or unpleasant, on a very fundamental level. 

For example, we can state that we have a “gut feeling” or “know something in our heart.” In such circumstances, rather than reasoning or thought, our perspectives have been shaped by our emotions. 

This can occur as a result of (a) sensory reactions, (b) values, (c) operant/instrumental conditioning, (d) classical conditioning, (e) semantic generalisation, (f) evaluative conditioning, or (g) just being exposed.

Sensory Reactions.

Any direct encounter with an object, whether by sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch, will elicit an instant evaluative response. We are specialists at determining if a sensory encounter is pleasurable or unpleasant. 

For example, you can tell whether you like a new candy bar right away after tasting it. This also relates to aesthetic experiences like liking an artwork’s colour or composition. We create opinions about items almost shortly after first seeing them.

Values.

Some of our beliefs influence our attitudes. Certain attitudes may develop as a result of our underlying ideals being validated. Many views are based on religious or moral convictions. 

Many people’s views on abortion, birth control, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty, for example, are influenced by their moral or religious convictions and are extremely emotive topics for them.

Operant Conditioning.

When an attitude evolves as a result of being reinforced by a reward or a pleasant experience or discouraged by punishment or an unpleasant experience, this is known as operant or instrumental conditioning. 

A parent can commend a teenager for volunteering in an after-school programme for children with special needs. As a result, the adolescent may acquire a favourable attitude toward volunteering. Similarly, many individuals believe broccoli to have an unpleasant flavour and loathe it as a result.

Classical Conditioning.

When a novel stimulus comes to elicit an emotional response as a result of its connection with a stimulus that already produces an emotional response, this is known as classical or Pavlovian conditioning. 

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian scientist, taught dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by repeatedly ringing the bell when the meat powder was delivered. Some of our views have been conditioned in a similar way in humans. Some people, for example, have a negative attitude about the use of “filthy” terms. 

Some folks will blush just thinking about a prohibited term. Because their usage is frowned upon in most circumstances in our culture, the words themselves have come to generate an emotional response.

Semantic Generalization.

We can get conditioned to a single stimulus, but that conditioning can also generalise or expand to other stimuli. A bell that is higher or lower in pitch than the initial conditioned sound, for example, may evoke the same response. 

The initial conditioning in humans might expand to words or concepts that are comparable to the original stimulus. As a result, we may create opinions about an item or concept even when we are not in direct contact with it.

Semantic generalisation is the term used to describe this type of generalisation. Human subjects who have been conditioned to respond to the sound of a bell, for example, may also respond to the sight of a bell or the spoken word bell. 

A semantic generalisation can explain how people create attitudes, such as bias, even when they haven’t had a direct encounter with the object of that attitude.

Evaluative Conditioning.

An object does not have to immediately make us feel good or bad in order for us to create an opinion about it. When we establish attitudes about an object or person because we were exposed to them while experiencing a pleasant or negative feeling, this is known as evaluative conditioning. 

For instance, a couple may develop pleasant feelings about music that was playing on the radio on their first date. Their good reaction to the music stems from its link with a pleasant dating experience.

Mere Exposure.

Finally, if we encounter the same thing or person again, we are more likely to develop a good opinion of it. This is true for a neutral or positive thing or person, as long as we are not overexposed to it. Many popular clothing designs, for example, may appear strange at first, but when we see more of them, we may grow to accept and even appreciate them.

Conduct (Behavioural Foundations of Attitudes).

Our acts can sometimes shape our attitudes. This might happen if we do something before we have an attitude (e.g., attending an unknown artist’s art opening), when we are unsure about our attitudes (e.g., attending a political rally with a buddy), or when we are not thinking about what we are doing (mindlessly singing along with a random station on the radio). 

That is, there are occasions when simply going through the motions might lead to us developing an attitude that is in line with our behaviours. In the above cases, people may learn to despise the new artist, favour free trade, or like classical music as a result of their activities, which resulted in the establishment of an attitude. 

There are at least four lines of research that explain how actions can lead to attitudes. First, according to self-perception theory, we should examine our actions and determine our attitude based on what we have done or are doing. 

Second, according to cognitive dissonance theory, we try for consistency in our attitudes and acts, and if the two don’t match, we may adopt a new attitude to match our previous deeds.

Third, data based on the facial feedback theory shows that maintaining our face muscles in an emotional posture causes us to feel that emotion, which may impact our judgments. 

Participants who saw not-so-funny cartoons while holding a pen across their teeth—a stance that stimulates the same muscles involved in smiling—rated the cartoons as funnier than those who posed with a pen in their mouths, which engaged the same muscles involved in frowning. 

As a result of shifting their facial muscles into smiles or frowns, people may develop positive or negative views about neutral items.

Finally, role-playing activities such as inventing compelling arguments, providing personal testimony, adopting another person’s point of view, or even play-acting are all examples of how people create views based on their actions. 

Women who were heavy smokers, for example, took part in an elaborately staged play in which they portrayed the role of a lady dying of lung cancer in early research. These ladies smoked less and had fewer positive attitudes toward smoking two weeks later than women who had not participated in the role-playing exercise.

Cognition (Cognitive Foundations of Attitudes).

Attitudes, or beliefs, have a cognitive base that derives from direct experience with the world or through reasoning about the world. Any type of active information processing, such as debating, pondering, picturing, and reflecting, as well as actions like reading, writing, listening, and talking, is included in thinking about the environment.

If you think insects are filthy and repulsive, you’re probably not going to eat them. If you hear that locusts and other insects are eaten cheerfully in other civilizations, you might think locusts aren’t so evil after all. Your attitude is based on the new information you’ve learned.

Furthermore, if the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that ultraviolet light exposure is the most important environmental factor in the development of skin cancers, and you believe the CDC is a reliable source of information, you might logically conclude that excessive sun exposure is unhealthy. 

Your attitude stems from your ability to reason logically about the universe. Assume you had no idea how you felt about a subject until you were required to prepare an essay for a writing class. This is an example of attitude construction through cognition as well, in this case, arranging your ideas in order to compose a cohesive article.

Conclusion – 

This blog post attempted to answer the question, “How are attitudes formed?” and reviewed the concept of attitude and its different foundations to help determine how attitudes are formed. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

Attitude Formation. (n.d.). Retrieved from  http://psychology.iresearchnet.com/social-psychology/attitudes/attitude-formation/#:~:text=An%20attitude%20is%20a%20general,emotion%2C%20behavior%2C%20and%20cognitions.

Cherry, K. Attitudes and Behavior in Psychology. (2021, February 20). Retrieved from  https://www.verywellmind.com/attitudes-how-they-form-change-shape-behavior-2795897

Dsouza, V. How are Attitudes formed and how it changes and shapes behaviours? (2017, March 2). Retrieved from  https://www.acquven.com/blog/article/how-are-attitudes-formed

Priyadarshir, S. How Attitudes are Formed? – Explained! (n.d.). Retrieved from  https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/psychology/how-attitudes-are-formed-explained/42816

How attitude is formed? GKToday. (2015, March 26). Retrieved from  https://www.gktoday.in/topic/how-attitude-is-formed/

What is attitude? How is it formed? What are the various theories of attitude formation? Quora. (n.d.). Retrieved from  https://www.quora.com/What-is-attitude-How-is-it-formed-What-are-the-various-theories-of-attitude-formation

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