None of us are born with attitudes. So, how do attitudes form in individuals? There are many ways.
- Getting exposed to something repeatedly has a tendency to form a positive attitude towards it. You may have noticed that television is showing the same advertisement of a certain milk powder, baby soap or a fairness cream every 15 minutes during prime time. The marketers know the trick! Same can happen on the negative side. You may remember how all the mass media in Sri Lanka repeated and repeated the case of the innocent child “Seya” who was raped and murdered ruthlessly. The whole country developed huge anger towards the culprit.
- Classical conditioning can also form attitudes even without your knowledge. When two things are coupled for many times, a conditioned response evoke unconsciously. If ‘Kumar Sangakkara’ is your favourite cricketer and if you see him promoting a certain brand of shirts, you may also choose that brand whenever you go to buy a shirt.
- Instrumental conditioning of attitudes occur when certain behaviors are punished and some are rewarded depending on social norms of the society that you are living or even rules and regulations of your organization. For example, if employees are punished for using Face book during office times, naturally you will develop a negative attitude towards using your office time to browse the Face book.
- Sometimes attitudes are formed through social learning. We look at others and shape our attitudes and behavior. We never chat and laugh loudly when we go to a temple because we see people talk and move softly without disturbing others.
With all of these factors that influence your attitudes and behavior, did you know that your attitudes serve certain functions to support your existence? Four main functions of attitudes have been identified as follows.
- Utilitarian value: People tend to adopt attitudes that are rewarding and avoid attitudes that lead to punishments. This helps us to adopt socially acceptable behavior.
- Knowledge function: Attitudes help people to attract information and interpret them to understand the world. Knowledge helps us to predict what is going to happen and shape our behavior accordingly.
- Ego-defensive function: People tend to use defensive mechanisms to protect their ego. They tend to develop negative attitudes towards things or persons that threaten their own self image and try to avoid them. If someone is always insulting you, you will do everything to protect your good name and avoid being associate with that person.
- Value expressive function: This serves to establish one’s own identity in the society by showing his/her integrity and personal values.
We usually expect behavior of a person to be consistent with his/her attitudes. However, this does not happen in certain times and people may not behave logically. For example, doctors know very well that cigarettes and alcohol are not good for health. But we have seen many doctors who smoke and use alcohol.
Our conscious attitudes influence our behavior strongly than the unconscious attitudes. If we see news reports about severe floods and people have been displaced as a result, we tend to seek more information on damages done, the status of displaced people and join charity groups to help them. This is because we develop sympathy towards them. But when you accidently pass by a friend while driving your car, you do not stop your car and find out whether she is in good mood, where she is going etc. you just wave her and continue.
People usually do not express their attitudes if they think they are socially unacceptable. Instead they will try to express what they think as more socially desirable. If we see high level of consistency between us and others, we feel very confident in expressing our attitudes.
Likewise, sometimes we restrain from exposing our attitudes when we have to be consistent with others. So, we have to be in the silent minority to be in consistent with the majority of the group whose attitudes are different to ours. If you are silent for a long time, you might change your attitude with time. This may happen between married couples also. If they find their attitudes are incompatible one of them has to adopt the other person’s attitudes if they want to live together peacefully.
Sometimes attitudes cause conflicting personalities. In certain circumstances, people do things they dislike just because they want to seek social acceptance and want to belong to a certain ‘social class’.
If we know that we are being watched, we may behave contradictory to our attitudes. A young boy even if he doesn’t like beggars may give money to a beggar in the presence of a young girl. This is merely to impress her because he would like her to see him as a sympathetic and generous person!
Now you know that you can control your behavior if you are conscious about your attitudes. We will see the factors that moderate the influences of your attitudes on your behavior.
- The origin of attitude: If the attitude is formed on the basis of direct experience, it tends to have a stronger influence on one’s behavior. If you were bitten by a dog you may develop a dislike towards dogs, and you will never get close to a dog.
- Strength of the attitude matters a lot. Stronger the attitude, stronger the influence it has on your behavior. The strength is given by knowledge, previous experience, self interest and personal values. A person who has lost a close relative due to a lung cancer caused by smoking will develop a very strong negative attitude towards smoking.
- Specificity of attitudes is better at predicting specific behavior. For example, ‘Michel’ does not like his female colleagues but he manages to work with them to fulfill his duties at the work place. He specifically does not like ‘Monica’. So, he always tries to avoid working with her.
All our attitudes can be either ‘explicit’ (deliberately formed) or ‘implicit’ (exists in the subconscious mind). Explicit attitudes are easily observed through our behavior. They occur through socialization of an individual. It is usually a response to the person’s exposure to outer world. Implicit attitudes are deeper in nature and sometimes people may not express them through their behavior.
We may not always aware of our own attitudes. Be careful. Attitudes can be infectious too! If you always associate with colleagues who possess negative attitudes towards their job, always express dissatisfaction towards facilities provided, complain on inadequate salary, boredom with work they do, there is a tendency that you may also develop those negative attitudes. So, be careful and watch your attitudes as well as the attitudes of others.
Don’t let your attitudes to make you a slave. If you become master of your attitudes, you can control them and it will help you to avoid conflicts or unpleasant situations in your work place.
Attitudes do influence our behavior! But if we are cautious, we ourselves can control the influence that lead to negative results.
Please watch you attitudes! They shape your behavior!!
About the contributor
Mrs. Asha Pitadeniya is currently working as a Senior Scientist at National Science and Technology Commission (NASTEC) of Sri Lanka.