Attitudes and behaviour

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Attitudes and behaviour
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Attitude and behaviour are an individual's internalized, learned willingness (act of will manifested in actions) to react in a socially defined way, especially by taking specific actions in response to social expectations[1].


The term attitude was introduced to the social sciences by William I. Thomas to denote the processes of individual consciousness, determining both current and potential human reactions to the social world. The author proposed to make the concept of attitude a central theoretical category of social psychology. As rarely before, the proposal was positively received.

Source of attitudes

The source of attitudes is the adopted worldview, understood as a collection of subjective intellectual and emotional experiences, defining the relation of a person to reality. The attitude has a direct reference to intellectual power (awareness of the act) and will (voluntariness).

An attitude is shaped in the process of satisfying needs, in specific social conditions, relatively stable organization: knowledge, beliefs of feelings, motives, certain forms of behaviour and expressive reactions of the subject related to a specific object or class of objects[2]. Along with the development of research there was an increasing differentiation of the very concept of attitude, which could mean: goals of action, motives, beliefs, a special case of predisposition, determinant of the direction of action, test reactions[3] Despite the multitude of meanings attributed to the concept of attitude, one can point to some elements that are repeated in the majority of theoretical considerations and that form the common core of meaning of this concept.

First of all, an attitude is something that is always connected with an effective assessment (positive or negative) of various types of objects - they can be people, social groups, activities, institutions, physical objects or events. "An "indifferent attitude" is in principle an internally contradictory term, because "attitude" assumes some, even the most moderate, emotional attitude towards an object.

Secondly, the emotional attitude has the feature of permanence and although it poses some operational problems due to the fact that attitudes change, most researchers agree that one can only talk about an attitude if one is dealing with relatively permanent assessments.

Thirdly, an attitude is always an attitude towards something, even if this "something" is not specified in the name of the term, such as when we talk about a pro-social or authoritarian attitude.

Fourthly, it is assumed that attitudes are acquired and modified in the learning process, with the personal experience of the individual playing an important role here. Due to the fact that the scope of these experiences is strongly determined by the individual's social situation, attitudes are most often a reflection of his or her position in society.

The components of attitudes and behaviour

The components of attitudes and behaviour:

  • Affective
  • Behavioural
  • Cognitive

E. Aronson gives the emotional component a decisive meaning. It gives direction to the attitude, i.e. determines whether it has the character of a positive or negative attitude towards the object of the attitude. To sum up, the notion of attitude is based on a compilation of three main elements - behaviour, knowledge and emotions. Attitudes can also be defined as compatible and rather constant motivational, cognitive-emotional traits, or as a complex, individual attitude of the subject towards a given object, phenomenon, person, object, opinion, etc., which is the basis for the compilation of three main elements - behaviour, knowledge and emotions as well as a constant negative or positive opinion about an object, man or idea.

The personality components that make up attitudes are a kind of compilation showing a strongly individualised way of reacting to specific stimuli in given life situations. Taking a permanent attitude, connected with the formation of various ideologies, prejudices and superstitions, results in the preference of certain goals, values and modes of action in relation to individuals, groups, problems, doctrines of sciences. Opinions are the verbal expression of attitudes. An extremely important concept in the context of attitudes is the phenomenon of incompatibility between action and the image of one's own self, i.e. cognitive dissonance. It can take the form of a reference to external factors, functioning as an external justification and as an internal justification, consisting in the elimination of differences and discrepancies between cognitive elements.

The sources of attitudes are emotions and cognition, and a behavioural component. Attitudes based on emotions, i.e. personal judgements, beliefs, opinions, values, sensory and aesthetic reactions and conditions are usually irrational and illogical. They are often based on instrumental evaluation and are linked to known values, therefore any attempt to modify them is associated with the risk of questioning them. Attitudes based on cognition, i.e. people's beliefs about the properties of an object, are generally logical and rational, and are based on the classification of objects according to expected rewards and penalties. Attitudes based on a behavioural component, as Aronson writes, are characterized by observation, the subject's own behaviour towards the object of attitude - according to D.Bem's theory of self-perception, there are circumstances in which people do not know what they feel until they perceive how they behave [4].

Relationship between attitudes and behaviour

The relationship between attitudes and behaviour is by no means unambiguous and predictable, as there is often a discrepancy between the attitude and its implementation in the form of a behavioural component[5]. A certain determinant of the expected behaviour may be a conclusion as to whether it is spontaneous or planned. The degree of connection between an attitude and other attitudes is manifested in this, that attitudes create a certain hierarchy and interrelated groups - most often they arise around a central attitude, which organizes towards peripheral, regional attitudes[6].

General typology of attitudes

There are many classifications of attitudes. The most frequently mentioned are:

  • rejections,
  • positive,
  • negative,
  • social,
  • individual,
  • public, private,
  • general,
  • Specific



  1. Ch. J. Armitage (2003),s. 188
  2. G. Bohner (2010),s. 393-397
  3. I. Azjen (2005),s. 3-29
  4. I. Azjen (2005),s. 3-29
  5. I. Azjen (2005),s. 3-29
  6. I. Azjen (2005),s. 3-29

Author: Nicoletta Krzewińska