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Gordon Allport claimed that 'attitudes' were social psychology's most 'indispensable concept'. To what extent can they predict behaviour?

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Introduction

Gordon Allport claimed that 'attitudes' were social psychology's most 'indispensable concept'. To what extent can they predict behaviour? Augoustinos & Walker (1995) claim the attitudes area has been the most researched and heavily invested topic in social psychology. The 1960/70's saw an era of pessimism regarding the attitude-behaviour association. However, by the 80's there was resurgence due to cognitive psychology's impact (Hogg and Vaughan 2002). Attitudes influence perceptions of others and also how we perceive ourselves. Augoustinos & Walker (1995:12) believe attitudes are 'real and tangible, which influence the way that attitude owner behaves'. They are tangible in the sense that attitudes are displayed through specific human behaviours and so can be observed e.g. a lazy attitude shown though someone sleeping a lot. But this does not mean that 'attitude' in itself exists as the question infers, it is a concept/theoretical construct. If G.Allport is correct then, attitudes are the causal stimuli that determine particular behaviour(s). Alike many social psychological concepts there is a definition problem. There are blurred boundaries between scientific and everyday meanings of 'attitude'. Reber and Reber (2001:63) vaguely claim 'an attitude is some internal affective orientation that explains the actions of a person - an intended action'. Hogg and Vaughan (2002) believe it has four components: cognitive (conscious opinion), affective (emotional feeling), evaluative (positive/negative) and behavioural (character for action). It depends on the theoretical approach taken when considering which factor is more important e.g. behaviourists favouring behavioural - based upon observed behaviour whilst cognitivists would support conscious opinions. ...read more.

Middle

This seems a plausible theory, as we like as high control over our behaviour. Deviating away from American research Parker, Manstead and Stradling (1995) applied TRB to British driving behaviour, predicting intention to perform offences. Strong correlations were gained between perceived control over driving behaviour and attitudes to driving offences, showing the value-added of perceived behavioural control to TRA. These models have the value of being implemented in society e.g. health issues. Protection motivation theory (Floyd 2000) believes a cognitive equilibrium between perceived danger of illness and coping abilities is required to embrace healthy behaviour and protect us. Protection motivation is interplay between perceived threat appraisal (vulnerability and rewards) and desire for minimal negative results (response cost and self-efficacy). This is indicative of equity theory where individuals attempt to minimise costs (threat appraisal/response costs) and maximise rewards (intrinsic/extrinsic rewards), which shows cognitive rationality/planning. However Hogg and Vaughan (2002) believe the above assumptions of intention, calculation and reason predicting behaviour is not always true. It has been suggested that behaviour determines attitudes, therefore a reverse relationship e.g. adopting a role with expected behaviour (drinking at university), may alter alcohol attitudes. Cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger 1957) supports this; an individual will be motivated to reduce an uncomfortable dissonance (conflict) between two inconsistent psychological cognitions by changing one of them/introducing a new cognition. Following a particular behaviour individuals are likely to change their attitude to match it, e.g. if someone is dieting but eats a cake they may feel discomfort/guilt and do sport to restore harmony. ...read more.

Conclusion

This is similar to Freud's critics who claimed the id, ego and superego were fallacies as they were unobservable abstract notions. Overall, the extent to which attitudes predict behaviour largely depends if the attitude is strong/stable enough to elicit a specific behavioural response and whether individuals are swayed by social influence to change behaviour/attitudes, if so this questions individual's free will. Fundamental general attitudes are generally shaped during the socialisation process, firstly the immediate family and subsequently by peer/mass media networks. I believe social influence is more important on the attitude construct than the individual as attitudes can be grouped into similar ones which are not essentially individual. Recent social psychologists have recognised this also e.g. Eiser (1994), focusing upon shared attitudes of social groups. If a reference group (Kelley 1952) is involved; one that is psychologically significant to the individual, it is likely that they will be more greatly affected than insignificant others. Therefore, whilst individuals would like to think their attitudes are their own choice, it could be argued that these are shaped largely by external influences. However, Fishbein and Ajzen (1980) identify, it is the individual's personal evaluation (positive/negative) that characterises whether a behaviour resulting from an attitude is suitable according to their judgement. Attitudes can provide the individual with uniqueness due to cognition. Humans are rational beings and make systematic use of information available (Fishbein and Ajzen 1980), suggesting we are active in attitude processes. It is clear there is evidence on both sides but the matter is yet unresolved, it is highly problematic and still subject to further research. Perhaps there is a need for a standardised attitude definition, to allow universal understanding. ...read more.

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