Watch that Attitude

Last week I was out shopping with a friend and both of us entered this clothing store, where I told her there was a dress I really wanted to buy and I could not stop talking about how beautiful that dress was and I was pretty sure my friend was tired of listening to me gush over the dress. However, when we got to the store and I showed her the dress, she looked at me like I wasn’t human. And then she asked me, “You find this pretty?”

Now that, my friends, is what I call ‘Attitude.’

Attitude is how you feel about a particular thing, person or situation. Some people like Italian food while others like Indian cuisine. Some prefer jeans while others shorts. I think having an attitude about anything and everything is what makes us human. Our ability to feel is what makes us human. And when it comes to psychology which happens to be the study of human behavior, attitude is a popular field of study. And a lot of psychologists contributed to this field of study; bringing their own ideas and concepts to the mix.

I like you, I like you not

Fritz Heider is one of the first people I am going to talk about in this post, simply because I find his theory interesting and one needs to read it carefully in order to have a clear understanding of it. Fritz Heider came up with what is known as the Balance Theory and how every relationship needs to have a balance in order to thrive and if there is imbalance, then it creates a feeling of discomfort which human beings try to work on.

Now this theory consists of three components. The first component is the person himself usually marked with a ‘P’. The second component is the person who is basically there for comparison, usually marked with ‘O’. And the third component is a thing which could either be a physical object or a situation or an abstract idea usually marked with an ‘X’. Now the relationship between these three components would determine whether there is balance or imbalance in the relationship. The relationship between the three components could either be positive or negative in nature and that will help determine if there is balance in the relationship—due to the balance in your attitude—or not.

So if all the components have a positive relationship, such as if ‘P’ likes ‘O’ and they both like ‘X’ the relationship is balanced; but if ‘P’ dislikes ‘O’ and they both dislike ‘X’ then the relationship is unbalanced. So with a little algebraic magic, you can figure out if there is balance or imbalance in a relationship.

I am what I do

Considering the balance and imbalance in a relationship, we have seen how imbalance in your attitude leads to a feeling of discomfort. Well Leon Festinger came up with his own theory in regards to the discomfort you feel when there is an imbalance in your attitude which is known as Cognitive Dissonance Theory.

Now this theory is fairly interesting, since it talks about the conflict that arises when your attitude is not aligned with your behavior. Now to explain this concept, imagine you are one of those students who like to attend classes and never want to cut class to go out with friends. However, there comes a day when your friends are insisting that you all should cut class and go out and have lunch together. Now if you choose to go out, that means there will be a conflict between your attitude and your behavior. And this leads to a discomfort; the greater the dissonance, greater the discomfort which will lead you to work on bringing some balance between your attitude and behavior. And you can do this by changing your behavior in accordance with your beliefs and attitude or you can try to tell yourself that skipping one class won’t matter as you can cover up and spending time with friends is more important because you will graduate soon.

Now Festinger further talks about two situations where cognitive dissonance is most likely to occur. They are known as free choice and forced-choice dissonance.

Free choice dissonance occurs when there are two options available to you and you are free to choose the one, however, leaving the other option causes discomfort in you which in the language of social psychology is known as dissonance. For example, I am at a bookstore—yes, I am a nerd—and there are two books that I want to buy but I only have money to purchase one. So I am free to choose the book which I like more but I would be feeling bad about not being able to buy the other one as well, and that is where the dissonance would come in.

Forced choice dissonance on the other hand is when you are forced to do something that goes against your beliefs and attitude. And that is something we experience quite often especially when it comes to authority figures. For example, you are tutoring this kid at home but the head of the house thinks that you should be stricter with the child because according to him strict behavior would help the child do better in studies. However, you do not believe that and according to you teaching with kindness and being lenient is a much better approach. But your so-called boss wants you to be strict with the child and so when you are being strict, that is when dissonance occurs because what you are forced to do goes against your attitude.

Now Daryl Bem puts an interesting spin on this topic by coming up with the self-perception theory, and I believe it is fairly easy to understand, considering we all do this. Daryl Bem’s self-perception theory states that a person is able to recognize his or her attitude about a particular thing based on his or her behavior. So for example, if your friend wants to gift a mutual friend something for her birthday and he comes and asks you if that particular friend likes books (nerd alert once again), so you reply, “I guess since she is always reading.” Now based on this example, you don’t really know if your friend like books or not but based on her behavior of always reading books, you infer that she likes books. So this is what Daryl Bem’s self-perception theory is all about. Pretty simple, isn’t it?!

Dare to Persuade me

Considering how our attitudes are often influenced by the people around us, Carl Hovland came up with a model that talks about how communication is an important part of forming of the attitude. Hovland studied various factors that form and influence communication such as the credibility of the speaker who is delivering the message and how attention influenced the retention of the message. According to him, if the speaker was not a credible person, he or she would not be able to persuade the audience and his or her message would fall on deaf ears and soon enough the people would forget what the message was. However, if the speaker was credible, then he or she would be able to persuade the people into changing their opinion and I believe this is something we all go through as the credibility of the person is very important.

Taking Hovland’s model and putting a spin on it came Petty and Cacioppo with their likelihood model of persuasion. According to Petty and Cacioppo, there are two routes through which persuasion can occur and that is the central and the peripheral.

The central route is all about active listening and participating. For example, if you are attending a seminar on a topic which is of interest to you, you are more likely to listen and participate actively, which will lead to central processing, where you have the will and the motivation to think about the topic and understand it on a deeper level because you want to learn more about it. But if you are not interested in the topic or you are not able to hear the message properly, then central processing will not occur and you would not be persuaded because you have no idea what the person said so you cannot come up with an argument and get a deeper understanding and this often leads to peripheral persuasion.

Peripheral persuasion is when other factors become involve which enable you to be persuaded. For example, you might not agree with what the speaker is saying but you might just get persuaded because the speaker is fairly good looking and appears knowledgeable, or maybe your friend is a big fan of the speaker, so you allow yourself to be persuaded because you are not willing to spend time thinking about the topic being spoken about or are not interested in gaining deeper knowledge about the topic. And that is how persuasion occurs which influences your attitude.

Food for Thought

After reading this blog post I would like to know:

  1. What are your thoughts on the different theories presented?
  2. What more can be added to this post?
  3. Would you critique any of the theories mentioned above? If so, which one?


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