Psychology’s main aim is to explain and predict human behaviour. If there is a link between a person’s attitude and their behaviour then possibly a person’s behaviour can be predicted by understanding their attitudes. It has been said that attitude is ‘probably the most distinctive and indispensable concept in psychology’ (Allport, 1954). The strongest influence on the formation of attitudes is social learning whereby people learn from their direct and indirect experiences. Some also argue that genetics play an influential part.
Is it difficult to define exactly what an attitude is; Petty and Caioppo (1986) defined it as ‘general evaluations people make about themselves, others, objects or issues’ and went on to say ‘attitudes have a past, present and future; they were developed from past experience, they guide our current behaviour, and can direct our development in the future’. There are many definitions of attitude, and the main gist of most of them is that attitudes are evaluations (good or bad) of something or some object.
Whether or not they can predict an individual’s behaviour or not is what is looked into and developed in this essay. There are various theories which have looked at this link such as the theory of reasoned action, cognitive dissonance and the triadic theory for example. The aforementioned triadic theory is also known as the three-component model theory, its attempts to define “attitude” is based upon the idea that an attitude is made up of three reactions to an object.
These three reactions are affective, cognitive and conative or behavioural. ‘Affective’ is the favourable or unfavourable feelings a person has towards the object. ‘Cognitive’ are all the thoughts, ideas and opinions a person has about the object and ‘conative’ or ‘behavioural’ refers to a persons tendency to ignore or approach an object and how they behave towards it. It is associated with psychologists such as Katz (1960), Rosenberg and Hovland (1960) and later associated with Eagly and Chaiken in 1993.
The 3-component model claims that the three components should be moderately correlated but studies which have analysed the correlation of the components produced contradictory results; Psychologists such as Hormuth (1979) and McGuire (1969, 1985) for example, found no support for the 3-component model, but psychologists such as Kothandapani (1971) did find supporting evidence. The main criticism of this model is that it doesn’t allow for any inconsistencies in the way a person feels and the way they act.
Because of the opposing evidence Breckler (1984) suggested that attitude varied with the kind of object studied. This was also supported by Schlegal (1972) and then further studied by Fishbein and Ajzen (1972). Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) proposed an un-dimensional model where only one of these aspects was the key factor. They emphasised the evaluation part and said that we have expectancies about certain objects/issues and we evaluate them in a positive or negative way which allows for both good and bad attitudes towards things. La Piere questioned the link between attitude and behaviour.
In the 1930’s there were widespread anti-Asian prejudices and La Piere travelled the USA with a Chinese couple to see if they would be accepted in various hotels and restaurants in view of the prejudices at this time. Surprisingly they were refused only once in over 200 places. Six months later, La Piere wrote a letter to all the hotels and restaurants and asked them if they would ‘accept members of the Chinese race as guests in their establishments’. 92% of all the replies said no which shows contradictions in their attitudes and their actual behaviours.
However, to criticise La Piere’s study, he doesn’t specify how many hotels/restaurants actually replied, his figures are based solely on the ones that did reply, so the 92% percent which sounds high (and supportive of his study) could actually be taken from just 30 hotels/restaurants when they actually stayed in over 200, making the evidence unreliable. Also within the six months attitudes could have changed or different people could have replied to the letters and might not be the same people who accepted them on their travels.