Attitudes and behaviors in psychology

In psychology, attitude refers to a set of emotions, beliefs, and behaviors about a specific object, person, thing, or event. Attitudes are usually the result of experience or education, and they can have a powerful influence on behavior. Although attitudes are lasting, they can also be changed.

Illustration by JR Bee, VigorTip


What do you think of the death penalty? Which party does a better job in governing the country? Should the school allow prayer? Should violence on television be regulated?

You may have quite strong opinions on these and similar issues. You have formed attitudes about these issues, and these attitudes will affect your beliefs and behaviors. Attitude is an important research topic in the field of social psychology. But what exactly is an attitude? How did it develop?

How psychologists define attitude

Psychologists define attitude as an acquired tendency to evaluate things in a certain way. This can include the evaluation of people, problems, objects, or events. Such assessments are usually positive or negative, but sometimes they can be uncertain.

For example, you may have mixed feelings about a particular person or problem. The researchers also suggested that there are several different components that make up attitudes.The component of attitude is sometimes called CAB or ABC of attitude.

Components of attitude

  • Cognitive component: your thoughts and beliefs on the subject
  • Emotional component: how the object, person, problem or event makes you feel
  • Behavioral components: how attitudes affect your behavior

Attitudes can also be explicit and implicit. A clear attitude is an attitude that we are consciously aware of and obviously affect our behavior and beliefs. Implicit attitudes are unconscious, but they still affect our beliefs and behaviors.

Attitude formation

There are many factors that can influence how and why attitudes are formed. The following is a careful study of how attitudes are formed.


Attitude is directly the result of experience. They may arise from direct personal experience, or they may come from observation.

social factors

Social roles and social norms have a great influence on attitudes. Social roles are related to how people behave in a particular role or environment. Social norms involve the society’s rules regarding which behaviors are considered appropriate.


Attitudes can be learned in many ways. Consider how advertisers use classic conditions to influence your attitude towards specific products. In TV commercials, you will see young and beautiful people enjoying sports drinks on tropical beaches. This attractive image makes you have a positive connection with this special drink.


Operative conditioning can also be used to influence the development of attitudes. Imagine a young man who just started smoking. Whenever he lit a cigarette, people would complain, blame him, and ask him to leave their vicinity. This kind of negative feedback from the people around eventually led him to have an unfavorable view of smoking, and he decided to give up this habit.


Finally, people also learn attitudes by observing those around them. When someone you admire supports a certain attitude, you are more likely to develop the same belief. For example, children spend a lot of time observing the attitudes of their parents and usually begin to show similar views.

Attitude and behavior

We tend to assume that people act according to their attitude. However, social psychologists have found that attitudes and actual behavior are not always completely consistent.

After all, many people support a particular candidate or political party, but they don’t vote. People are also more likely to act on their own attitude under certain conditions.

Factors affecting attitude strength

  • Is an expert on the subject
  • Expect a good result
  • firsthand experience
  • Win or lose something because of a problem
  • Attitudes expressed repeatedly

Change to match behavior

In some cases, people may actually change their attitudes to better align with their behavior. Cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon that causes psychological distress due to conflict of thoughts or beliefs.To reduce this tension, people may change their attitudes to reflect their other beliefs or actual behaviors.

Use cognitive dissonance

Imagine the following situation: You have always attached great importance to financial security, but you start dating someone who is financially unstable. To reduce the tension caused by conflicting beliefs and behaviors, you have two options.

You can end the relationship and find a financially safer partner, or you can de-emphasize the importance of financial stability.

In order to minimize conflicting attitudes and disharmony between behaviors, you either change your attitude or change your behavior.

Why the attitude will change

Although attitudes can have a powerful influence on behavior, they are not static. The same effects that cause attitudes can also cause attitude changes.

Learning theory

Classical conditioning, operational conditioning, and observational learning can be used to change attitudes. By associating positive emotions with target objects, classical conditioning can be used to generate positive emotional responses to objects, people, or events.

Operative conditioning can be used to reinforce desirable attitudes and weaken undesirable attitudes. People can also change their attitudes after observing the behavior of others.

Refined Likelihood Theory

This theory of persuasion suggests that people can change their attitudes in two ways. First, they can be motivated to listen and think about information, which can lead to attitude changes.

Or, they may be affected by the characteristics of the speaker, leading to a temporary or superficial change in attitude. Thought-provoking and logical information is more likely to lead to permanent changes in attitudes.

Disharmony theory

As mentioned earlier, when people have different views on a topic, they can also change their attitude. In order to reduce the tension caused by these incompatible beliefs, people often change their attitudes.