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Describe and discuss the structure of attitudes and how attitudes are acquired.

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Describe and discuss the structure of attitudes and how attitudes are acquired.

Colin Crumpler, 191318, 8/12/02

One of the most discussed and central topics of social psychology is the subject of attitude.  Attitudes are in play all the time throughout our lives and have an impact on our perception, thinking and behavior.  Many definitions of attitude have been used, however a good one for defining attitude is as follows: ‘An attitude is a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor’ (Eagly & Chaiken, 1998).  Firstly the structure of the attitude will be discussed with reference to the components of attitudes and then onto the structure of attitudes.  The causes of attitudes will then be looked into, discussing the areas of cognitive information, direct experience, conditioning and biological influences.

        Two explanations for the structure of attitudes are the one-component model and the two-component model.  The simplest explanation is the one-component model and was the idea put forward in the 1950s originally by Edwards in 1957 yet has re-emerged recently.  The idea is that an attitude is an affective evaluation or response to positive or negative stimuli.  Attitudes put forward in 1981: ‘The

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Attitudes can come from many sources, these have been grouped generally into four main areas, which shall be discussed.  The first area to be discussed is how attitudes arise from thoughts and beliefs (cognitive information).   A theory that was formed in the area of cognitive information is the theory of reasoned action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).  This theory put forward that attitudes are formed in part by beliefs already apparent in the mind, these beliefs then influence the evaluation of the object, person or situation to form the attitude.  The beliefs about the stimuli are what we already know about it and the attitudes and views we hold about it as stored in our memory, these beliefs however then may update and change the attitude about the stimuli on future occasions and once more information has been attributed with the stimuli.  A stimulus however may have many different beliefs associated with it that appose each other, and the complex the beliefs about the stimuli the longer it may take to form an attitude about it.

Attitudes can arise from direct experience with the stimuli, and sometimes there is no apparent reason for the positive or negative attitude towards the stimuli.  In an experiment performed by Saegert, Swap and Zajonc (1973)

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Eagly, A.H. & Chaiken, S. (1998) ‘Attitude  structure and function’. In D.T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), ‘The Handbook of Social Psychology’ (4th ed., pp. 269-322). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Eagly, A.H. & Chaiken, S. (1993) ‘The psychology of attitudes’. San Diego, CA and Fort Wort, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Petty, R.E. & Cacioppo, J.T. and Goldman, R. (1981) ‘Personal involvement as a determinant of argument based persuasion’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 847-855.

Zanna, M.P. & Rempel, J.K. (1988) ‘Attitudes: a new look at an old concept.’ In D. Bar-Tal and A.W. Kruglanski (eds.), ‘The Social Psychology of Knowledge’ (pp. 315-34), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Saegert, S. Swap, W. & Zajonc, R. (1973) ‘Exposure, content and interpersonal attraction’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 25, 234-42.

Fishbein, M. & Ajzen, I.  (1975) ‘Belief, attitude, intention and behaviour: an introduction to theory and research’.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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