Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

Attitude and Behaviour

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It would seem reasonable to argue the existence of a link between attitude and behaviour and to further assume that it is those same attitudes that determine that behaviour. However, there are many variables to consider which may affect the strength of such a link. It is important to distinguish between the influence of different types of attitude (reference), the first type being attitudes towards general entities and the second being attitudes towards more specific ones.

This essay will look at how attitudes can be a poor predictor of behaviour on a broad perspective but become effective predictors when looked at in a narrower and more specific way. However, the additional impact of a wide array of other variables undermines the accuracy of the link between attitudes and behaviour and complicates the drawing of clear conclusions. ‘Attitude’ is defined by Eagly and Chaiken in their book The Psychology of Attitudes as ‘a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favour or disfavour’. reference) In other words, an ‘attitude’ is a judgement or evaluation made about any ‘entity’ which can be assessed along a measurement of favourability.

As well as a person’s attitudes differing in positivity, (i. e. some attitudes possessed can be positive, neutral or negative), they also can differ in strength, (i. e. one may feel more strongly about a certain topic than another), and therefore consider it a more important topic. In brief, ‘behaviour’ is the actions of an individual which can be objectively measured. Some may argue that attitudes are a weak predictor of behaviour.

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In 1969, Wicker, after reviewing studies such as that of Richard LaPiere, concluded that attitudes and behaviour are only slightly, if at all, related. LaPiere, in the 1930s, seemed to suggest very little correlation between attitude and behaviour. LaPiere travelled around America with an Asian couple at a time where anti-Asian prejudice was prevalent. Although concerned that the couple would be refused from many of the hotels along the way, he found that only one out of the 250 hotels did so. After his travels, LaPiere sent a letter to each of the hotels asking whether they would allow Chinese guests.

Of all his replies, only one declared they would serve a Chinese guest. This study, and others like it at the time, seemed to suggest very few links between attitude and behaviour. However, there are a number of problems with this study, such as the fact that there is no guarantee that the person who answered the letter is the same person who let the Chinese couple stay. The question in the letter as to whether they would let a Chinese couple in is also too broad a statement as it does not specify if they are a ‘well-dressed Chinese couple accompanied by an American college professor’ (ref).

The limits of the success of attitude predicting behaviour can also be seen by the fact that similar attitudes held by different people can lead to different behaviour from those individuals. Indeed, Thurstone wrote; ‘It is quite conceivable that two men may have the same degree or intensity of effect favourable towards a psychological object and that their attitudes would be described in this sense as identical but... that their overt actions would take quite different forms’. ref print out) In other words, one cannot predict an individual’s actions according to his/her attitudes as two different people with the same attitude towards something may act according to that attitude in completely different ways. There are also many other factors which will determine how effective attitude is in predicting behaviour. One such factor is the strength of the attitude which one holds. The stronger one’s attitude, the more likely it is to predict behaviour. This is because if a person holds a very strong positive attitude towards something, they are likely to act positively towards it.

However if that person holds another, weaker, attitude towards something, thereby valueing it of less importance, they will be less likely to act according to that attitude. Furthermore, an attitude based on direct experience rather than second hand information will be more effective in predicting behaviour. This was demonstrated in a study by Fazio and Zanna, 1981, whereby participants were asked to solve several puzzles. One the one hand, in the second hand condition, some participants were shown how to solve the puzzles, and on the other, in the direct experience condition, some participants were allowed to work on the puzzles beforehand.

Attidude being measured as intrest shown, and behaviour being measured as the order and proportion of the puzzles solved, the test showed a correlation between attitude and behaviour of between . 51 and . 54 in the direct experience condition while only between . 22 and . 20 in the indirect experience condition. (ref printout). It can therefore be seen that attitudes can predict behaviour under some cercumstances, such as those layed out by Fishbein and Ajzen.

The extent to which attitude can predict behaviour is also circumstantial to factors such as how one persives the importance of that attitude and what that attitude is based upon. Behaviour is also affected by other factors which may be opposing to the attitude held by an individual. Subjective norms and perceived behaviour controle also influence behaviour. Therefore, when looking at all three together, predicting behaviour may be effective, however, when looking at attitude by itself such predictions may be weak.

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