The Theory of Attitude Formation and Attitude Change

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This essay is going to critically evaluate how attitudes are formed and changed by analyzing theories and research in social psychology and drawing conclusions on which theory is more credible and applicable in everyday life.

First and foremost attitude is defined by Petty & Cacioppo (1981, p 7) as ‘a general and enduring positive or negative feeling about person object or issue’ (Maio & Haddock, 2015). Rempel and Zanna (1988, p319) define attitude as ‘’categorization of a stimulus object along an evaluative dimension’’ in Haddock and Maio (2015). An attitude is a lasting positive or negative opinion or feeling about some person, object, or issue. Attitudes are formed through either direct experience or the influence of others or the media. Attitudes have three foundations: affect or emotion, behavior, and cognitions.Attitudes may develop out of psychological needs (motivational foundations), social interactions (social foundations), and genetics (biological foundations), although this last notion is controversial. The first theory of attitude formation was brought by Zajonc who says when we are exposed to an object we become favourable or unfavourable to that object. Zajonc’s theory proposes that, the more often one is exposed to an object or stimuli, the more likely they are to form a positive attitude towards it.

Attitude is also formed through associative learning which is also referred to as classical conditioning. This is learning by simple association. Staats (1958) made an experiment and brought two together and associated one name with negative words and the other with positive words. When people heard the first name they associated it with negative words and when they heard the latter they associated it with positive words.

The way we view our own behaviors determines our own attitude. This is the basis of the self-perception theory made by Bem in 1972. When one looks at their own behaviorial patterns they can determine the underlying attitudes. Self-perception theory suggests that we look to our behavior and figure out our attitude based on what we have done or are doing. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we strive for consistency between our attitudes and our actions and when the two do not match, we may form a new attitude to coincide with our past actions. In addition to this, new research evidence using the facial feedback hypothesis suggests that holding our facial muscles in the pose of an emotion will cause us to experience that emotion, which may then color our opinions. As a result, people may develop positive or negative attitudes toward neutral objects after moving their facial muscles into smiles or frowns, respectively. We also develop attitudes based on the Functional approach (brought by Katz, 1960) . This essentially being that we develop attitudes to meet our psychological needs. This maybe a desire to organise and predict the world or capacity to express a value that is important to them.

Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence (Skinner, 1938). Operant or instrumental conditioning is when an attitude forms because it has been reinforced through reward or a pleasant experience or discouraged through punishment or an unpleasant experience. A negative or positive attitude will this form depending on the experience. Observational learning – (Social learning theory) – learning through modelling it was brought about by Bandura that people learn through imitation of each other.

In recent years, behaviorial genetic studies have shown that individual differences in opinion and social, political and religious issues are partially attributed to genetic influences (eg D’nofrio, Murelle, Maes,&Spikka 1999, Orson, Vernon and Harris 2001). One of the ways in which genetics determines attitude formation is through the different personality types. Information processing theory formed by Strata (1994) when a person takes in information coming to them and come to an evaluative position which is forming an attitude.

We learn our attitudes from people around us such as family or peer group-people we hang out with such as learning by social comparison. We learn through discussing with people and also child rearing techniques such as family brought a person up. Also mass media influence our attitudes and we get carried away by attitudes such as classical condition (CEC/UGC, 2017). The theory of reasoned action and planned behaviour is when we think through about the attitude that we plan to engage in by looking at our subjective norms being our peer group. Then will go to do the task that we intended to do. The perceived behavioural control is the place where l can engage my intention.

Attitude change is brought up through elaboration likelihood model and cognitive dissonance theory (Bernstein, 2015). Bernstein (2015) goes on to explain how attitude is changed through central route and peripheral route. What happens is that someone tries to persuade a person to change their mind. Persuasion is the ‘deliberate attempt to change attitude or beliefs with information or argument’ (CEC/UGC, 2017). The first is called the peripheral route where the person sees an attractive person advertising make up and then they decide if that person is using that item then they also will use it. For me it was seeing Queen Latifa (hip-hop artist) advertising MAC makeup that persuaded me to buy that product as it made her skin appear smooth and flawless. With the central route is when a person takes the time to think over the matter, where the core message is more important that the communicator’s attractiveness. When the person takes in information and absorb the information and taking time to consider the information that they are being given. This can be called systematic processing route (CEC/UGC, 2017). For example if someone wants to buy a washing machine I could shop around and look at the pros and cons of the item that l intend to buy if l can afford it. What determines the route that would be used could be the following of the target audience is the following: Interest, self-interest, importance and ability to listen and focus.

What is processed on each of the route is explained as follows. If the process is central then audience is likely to look for substance (key points, logic, source(s) credibility). If the process is peripheral then the audience will look at form (clarity, vocabulary, setting of the communication.) (Influence and persuasion, 2018). Having discussed this I am going to look at evidence against likelihood model. There are studies according to Booth-Butterfield& Welbourne (2002) that show that credibility had no effect on coercion (Norman, 1976; Rhine &Severance, 1970; Sternthal, Dholakia, & Leavitt,1978).

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Evidence that supports the elaboration likelihood model (elm) is Bitner & Obermiller (1985). Their article agrees that elm is a necessary framework for understanding attitude and change which l agree with. Having said that, there is evidence that is against it by Morris et al saying that the model neglected to talk about the emotional component of cognition which would make attitude change last longer.

The strength of the theory is that it provides a framework that explains attitude formation in the way that explains many inconsistent findings in the persuasion literature. The limitation is that it neglects to mention the emotional component as it will cause the attitude change to last longer. Other authors such as Petty,Barden and Wheeler (2009) say that the model is seen as useful framework for explaining and predicting the impact that health communication have on behaviour and attitudes.

Cognitive dissonance is defined as ‘the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes (especially as relating to behavioural decision and attitude change)’ (Dr Gendron,nd). Leon Festinger conducted a study where people were to peg items which they found boring. When they finished they were informed that they were to tell the next people a lie that they had enjoyed the task. Also half of the people were paid one dollar and the other half were paid twenty dollars. A week later all the participants were asked to come back and asked them how did they enjoy the experience .What he found when he asked the participants was those that were paid $1 reported enjoying the experience more than those who were paid $20. Those that were paid $1 possibly had rationalised that they had enjoyed the experience rather than for the money. The ones paid $20 had reason to lie as they had an incentive (the money was a lot in 1957).Evidence to support the theory is by Harmon-Jones (2017) who says humans and non-humans will find ways to reduce dissonance so that it does not exist.

Evidence that disagrees is by Joule and Beavois (1998) that says ‘the original version of dissonance presented in 1957 is more agreeable but supplemented by an axiom stating the necessity of committement or more specifically the free choice of compliance’. The strength of the theory according to Aronson (1969) stated that this theory was very simple and that was its strength. Apparently its weakness is also its strength according to Aronson (1969) the theory suggest that man spends his time in cognitive dissonance and dispelling it. Actually l believe and know for certain as agreed by Aronson (1969) that| man is too busy with other aspects of his life to spend too much time on dissonance.

Harmon- jones & Harmon & Jones (2018) agrees with the theory that its original form with a taste of action-based model. The research that l looked at the discusses the attitude formation and change as it tried to clarify how attitudes are formed is as follows.

The first paper was by Betsch et al (2001) was about implicit attitude formation. The strengths of the study was that there was 3 groups that were forming the experiment and that there were varied. The weakness of the study was that the study focused on younger generation and did not look to the older generation of top earners. The procedure had its strength and limitations as well. The strength of the experiment was that change does happen over time. The limitation was not observed at the time of reading the paper.

The next research paper is about implicit attitude formation through classical conditioning by Fazio and Oslon (2001). The participants were not matching with the reality of the real world. It only involved women. The procedure strength is that it was unethical it led to the meeting of the reason of the research. The findings of the study was that the people involved were not aware of the contingencies. This proved that attitudes can be conditioned in absence of contingency awareness. Alternative explanation of these findings is that the people were not given the full information of the reason for the experiment.

The last research paper that l went through to support attitude formation and change is that by van Giesen et al (2018) question is about being different in influence in affect and cognition of consumer attitude towards nanotechnology. The participants were a group that was very varied. As for the procedure the data was collected through an agency which was thorough and had no influence on those studied. Materials were thoroughly assessed to present response fatigue. The findings were that ‘people rely on affect than cognition on attitude formation towards nanotechnology, and for conventional technologies the influence of affect and cognition on overall attitudes stays stable over time’. Alternative explanations for findings was that people are sure of conventional technologies than they are of nanotechnology that is deduced.

The theory of attitude formation and attitude change is great at explaining the basis of attitude formation. I agree with the Morris et al (2005) that this model is great for explaining attitude change in the short term as l know thing that last in my life have an emotional attachment not cognitive component. I also find that most times l tend not to be easily swayed by adverts as what is insinuated by the elm theory. That when an attractive person is talking that one identifies with the product and then purchase it. This makes the model sound too simplistic as l think that there are various modes of thinking a person goes through.

In regards to cognitive dissonance model l don’t find how a person can own up to the rationalization that they are feeling dissonance. I mean dissonance responses in humans and nonhuman different so a person can feel like pleasing the investigator and they can hide how they truly feel. To sum up, attitude formation and change as detailed in the essay have been explored and attempted to provide evidence that is in research to show how they have been controlled and been predicted to the real world. However there is still opportunity to explore models that would comprehensively explain attitude formation and change that everyone can agree on including authors.

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