Where our attitudes come from.
The origins of the word “attitude” come from the Latin “aptus” meaning “subjective or mental state in preparation for action.” Artists have also used the word on a non-scientific level in the 17th century to refer to the physical positioning of the subject in the background. Thus it became almost a synonym for “posture” when the artist was paining. There are many debates about what exactly is meant by “attitude?” A well-known Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, described attitude as, “a readiness of the person to act or react in a certain way.” At the core of Jung’s description was a duality of the way that we behave: extraversion and introversion, rational and irrational. These definitions provide us some clues, and it begs us to ask the question: Do attitudes play a part in determining our behavior? A lot of research has been conducted to answer that question. An underlying assumption here is that if you shift a person’s attitude in the right direction, the behavior will follow to match. For example: If you see the value of wearing a seatbelt whilst driving then you are more likely to actually wear it; if you think smoking is bad for your health, then you may even quit and so on.
Attitudes are not behaviors
Richard LaPiere, an American sociology professor conducted one of the most famous studies showing the relationship of attitudes and behaviors in 1934. He asked a Chinese couple to visit 250 restaurants and hotels across the United States. The couple got one refusal to be accepted in the establishments. LaPiere then sent a letter to the same 250 hotels and restaurants asking if they would serve Chinese customers. An outstanding 92% of them refused. Scientists repeated this numerous times and they concluded that the relationship attitude-behavior is weak. There is a higher correlation between attitude-behavior when attitude is clearer. In a recent experiment (Davidson et al 1985) students participated in an university election if they had more information about the candidates compared with students that we not up-to-date. Attitudes and actual behaviors are not always perfectly aligned.
Social scientists agree today that there are three essential components that make up attitudes:
1. Emotional: your feelings about an object, person, or event.
2. Beliefs: the cognitive component, how we form our attitudes.
3. Behavior: how it influences our attitudes.
Attitudes can be learned over time in a variety of ways. The famous experiments that the Russian scientist Pavlov conducted showed how dogs can be “trained” to salivate even when no food is present by conditioning them to react when they heard the sound of a bell ringing. This is known as “classical conditioning”, and advertisers use it to help us make buying choices, and therefore influence our attitudes towards their products. Another way of influencing attitudes is by “operant conditioning” or using rewards and punishment. For example, imagine someone who is overweight, and they have negative feedback from those around them as being,“ too fat.” The feedback will eventually influence the person to have a negative attitude towards being overweight and hopefully begin a diet. You also develop attitudes by watching those around you, and emulating their behaviors. Another classic example of this that of children behaving like their parents.
Changing your attitudes
Making the assumption that people behave according to their attitudes is not a given. We are more likely to behave according to our attitudes under certain conditions:
- As a result of a personal experience about somebody, a situation, an issue, a conflict and so on.
- Subject matter expertise: when you are very knowledgeable about something and feel confident in expressing your viewpoint.
- Favorable outcomes: achieving success in some endeavor will shape your attitude in doing that action in the future.
- Create a positive stimulus and associate positive feelings with a person, event or situation. Imagine you’ve enjoyed a conversation with a friend, anchor that positive feeling and ask yourself, “What made me fell good?”
- Watch a motivational speaker or read an influential book. The characteristics of the speaker and thought provoking messages in a book will create a shift in your attitudes.
- Shifting your attitudes might help: if you have conflicting beliefs about a topic. For example: most times we believe that we made the right choice, however when it turns out badly, it conflicts with our existing beliefs about our decision-making ability. De-emphasize that all decisions are wrong creates the right attitude shift here.