Attitude Meaning, Components, Functions, Importance, Theories

Table of contents:-

  • What is Attitude?
  • Components of Attitudes
  • Functions of Attitude
  • Importance of Attitude
  • Influence of Attitude on Consumer Behaviour
  • Theories of Attitude

What is Attitude?

Attitude refers to an individual’s feelings and behaviour towards an object, person, situation, or event. Human behaviour can be categorized into two main types: positive and negative, which can be identified by observing an individual’s actions and reactions in various situations. Their behaviour or personality can determine the proper functioning of an individual.

Thus, an attitude can be described as a person’s perspective or viewpoint towards any object, person, situation, or event. In simple terms, attitude can be defined as an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and reactions toward different aspects of their environment.

Experience plays a vital role in shaping an individual’s attitude. With experience, a person develops the mental fortitude to understand how they can influence others with their attitude and how to respond to both predictable and unpredictable situations. Through this, they seek to validate their perspective in front of others and develop social relationships with those around them, thereby establishing a distinct identity for themselves.

In today’s business environment, a positive attitude has become a requirement for most organizations. An individual’s attitude not only impacts their performance but also significantly affects the behaviour of others. This is why many managers strive to align attitudinal shifts with the strategic changes within their organizations.

According to Allport, “Attitude is learned predispositions to respond to an object or class of object is consistently favourable or unfavourable way”

According to Engel, “Attitudes are an overall evaluation that allows one to respond in a consistently favorable or unfavourable manner with respect to a given object or alternative”

Components of Attitudes

The major components of attitude include the following:

1) Cognitive Component

The cognitive component refers to an individual’s actual knowledge, beliefs, and thoughts about an object. It encompasses a person’s thoughts, beliefs, and knowledge about any situation, person, or topic. For example, the cognitive component of a computer operator includes their understanding and knowledge of computers and related operations.

2) Affective Component

The affective component of human attitude refers to the emotional reactions or feelings towards an object, situation, person, or topic. This component reflects contentment, sadness, excitement, likes, dislikes, and other emotional responses. In other words, it is how an individual responds emotionally to an object or person. For example, the affective component for a computer operator refers to the level of interest or excitement they feel while working on computers.

3) Behavioural Component

The actions or behaviour of an individual towards an object, person, or situation constitute the behavioural component of their attitude. For example, the behavioural component of a computer operator is influenced by their experience and level of familiarity with computers. The more exposure and hands-on experience they have with computers, the more positive their attitude will be towards them. Thus, these components are interrelated and provide an organized framework for shaping one’s attitude toward computers.

Functions of Attitude

According to Daniel Katz, the functions of attitudes can be classified into four main categories as follows:

1) Adaptive Function

Attitude helps individuals by providing a mental framework to interpret new information, make decisions, and guide their behaviour in response to a changing environment. A positive attitude allows individuals to identify and reach their goals, it also protects them from unwanted situations. A positive attitude towards a situation can help an individual avoid all the potential negative outcomes associated with it. An individual may receive rewards for adopting a specific kind of attitude.

For example, if an individual wants to be part of a group, they need to initiate a conversation on a topic of common interest, like movies, sports, news, or entertainment. This will help them gain group members’ attention and facilitate smoother integration. Thus, having the right attitude helps people adapt to changing requirements, promote social integration, build relationships, and achieve their desired outcomes.

2) Knowledge Function

A positive attitude can enhance an individual’s ability to understand the world, gain insight into their surroundings, comprehend the underlying causes of events, and form informed opinions about situations and people.

The attitudes that enable an individual to understand and predict the world are known to serve the knowledge function. These attitudes act as a source of information for individuals. One example of the knowledge function is stereotyping. Stereotyping refers to creating a generalized perception or belief about a group of people based on shared characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or nationality, often inaccurately.

For example, an individual who enjoys reading magazines about hi-fi systems, visiting various scientific exhibitions, and discussing the latest products and gadgets on the market would be characterized as a person who is fond of electronic systems.

3) Value-Expressive Function

Attitudes play an essential role in expressing values. For example, an individual with religious beliefs may demonstrate their values by supporting regular assembly prayers in school. These values are inherent in an individual and reflect their personality and nature. These attitudes express an individual’s self-concepts, ideas, beliefs, viewpoints, and more. The attitudes performing the value-expressive function cannot be changed frequently because they are intrinsic and present as self-concepts.

4) Ego-Defensive Function

Some attitudes act as an ego-defensive mechanism that helps individuals safeguard their self-esteem and psychological well-being against potential threats. Situations creating biases can adversely affect an individual’s self-respect. However, such challenges can be overcome by developing a positive attitude.

For example, when a child experiences humiliation in front of friends during a sports class, it can develop a negative attitude towards all sports. Similarly, people who have experienced a blow to their self-esteem after losing in a sports event are likely to adopt a defensive stance.

However, having a negative or defensive attitude cannot safeguard an individual’s self-respect in the long run. Thus, individuals should maintain a positive attitude towards themselves to defend and enhance their self-worth.

Importance of Attitude

Attitude plays an important role in the life of every individual. It impacts various aspects of an individual’s life in the following ways:

1) Determines the Meaning of Environment

Attitude helps individuals evaluate their environmental circumstances by creating favourable or unfavourable behaviour toward them. An individual who maintains a positive attitude towards others will always appreciate the excellent work done by them. In contrast, an individual with a negative attitude towards another person will always oppose their perspective and refuse to acknowledge them.

2) Rationalizes Actions

People have different opinions based on their attitudes and perspectives. Sometimes, attitudes help resolve the contradictions arising from differing opinions by fostering open-mindedness, empathy, respect, flexibility, a positive outlook, and more. People with these appropriate attitudes can easily understand and interpret these differences effortlessly.

For example, suppose a supervisor observes a worker sleeping during working hours. In that case, his positive attitude will lead him to understand that the worker is taking a brief break due to fatigue. On the other hand, a worker with a negative attitude may perceive the supervisor’s observation as an act of surveillance.

3) Organizes Facts

Attitudes play an important role in perceiving, interpreting, and organizing relevant facts and information. Various opinions from different people provide valuable insight into the goals to be achieved.

For example, union leaders influence workers’ attitudes in organizations by providing pertinent information, which is then strategically utilized to benefit their interests.

4) Facilitates Selection of Facts

Individuals who maintain a positive outlook always focus on the positive attributes of those around them. Attitude helps in selecting positive facts, which ultimately contributes to fostering a harmonious working environment. Managers who focus on their employees’ positive activities and behaviour remain happier than those who observe only the negative behaviour of their employees.

For example, managers generally have a negative attitude towards unions; hence, at the cost of negative behaviours such as misconduct and damage, positive behaviours such as voluntary wage reduction and new productivity policies suffer. This is because, while observing the negative aspects of unions, managers ignore the positive aspects of the union that they can bring to the organization.

Influence of Attitude on Consumer Behaviour

The concepts listed below will help to understand the influence of attitudes on consumers:

1) Negative Learned Attitudes

Attitudes develop within individuals from birth, with some potentially influenced by parental teachings. A knowledgeable and commendable individual can be a strong influencer of attitudes and have a long-lasting impact on attitude transformation.

For example, a salesperson promoting a newly launched detergent in the market may find it troublesome to convince individuals who strongly believe that the brand used by their mothers is superior. From the marketer’s point of view, these well-informed attitudes are negative, as they can influence customers’ preferences for the product.

2) Positive Learned Attitudes

Marketers can establish a loyal consumer base by targeting individuals with positive attitudes towards their products or services. These consumers are likely to display trustworthiness and become repeat purchasers.

Additionally, they recommend it to other people who may denounce it. They take criticism as a negative impression of the person providing it, rather than as constructive feedback. There is a directly proportional relation between the level of respect individuals have for the original opinion holder and the attitude towards a product or service held by opinion holders.

3) Negative Experience Attitudes

Consumer attitudes are primarily shaped by their experiences with products and services. For example, a person with a bad experience with a particular shoe may hesitate to purchase it again, even if the dealer offers a beautiful price.

There is a high probability that buyers may develop a negative attitude towards an entire category of products or services, as well as towards specific groups or communities. Consumers of organic foods may develop a negative attitude towards those who consume non-organic food items. Thus, consumer perspectives are critically impacted by negative experiences.

4) Positive Experience Attitudes

Positive experiences are essential for the development and success of marketing personnel. As the name suggests, such attitudes are developed through consumers’ positive experiences with the company’s products and services.

For example, if a person has used a car from a particular company for 20 years, they will likely choose the same brand for their next purchase. Thus, exhibiting positive behaviour is similar to having a favourable approach. Every marketer strives to maximize the effectiveness of experiential attitudes as much as possible.

Theories of Attitude

There are several theories regarding attitudes, some of which are as follows:

  1. Balance Theory
  2. Congruity Theory
  3. Cognitive Dissonance Theory

1) Balance Theory

Heider’s Balance Theory is based on the principles of perception theories. The belief is that attitude changes do not result from eliminating cognitive dissonance. Instead, individuals modify their attitudes by observing other people’s behaviour and understanding its consequences.

According to the Balance Theory, individuals strive to maintain an equilibrium between what they like and dislike. Thus, the more balanced an individual’s likes and dislikes are, the more stable the overall structure will be.

Imbalance can result in unstable structures, thereby increasing the need for a shift in attitude to restore equilibrium. The liking or disliking among a person (P), another person (O), and an object (X) can result in either a state of equilibrium or imbalance. In the case of an imbalanced relationship, changes can be made to achieve equilibrium. Otherwise, one party may choose to step back from the situation.

Balance Theory Example

For example, if person P and person Q share a fondness for X, a harmonious equilibrium is established among their connections. However, if P likes Q and Q likes X, but P does not share the same fondness for X, an imbalance is created within their connections. To retain balance in this situation, P can either step back from the situation or adjust their attitude towards X from negative to positive.

Alternatively, P could change their attitude towards Q from positive to negative. According to the Balance Theory, people view themselves based on three key elements: the person, ideas, and possessions. These variables either have a positive relationship with each other or a negative one.

Unlike Congruity Theory, Balance Theory is not based on numerical calculations to determine the extent of an attitude. Instead, it is rooted in emotions and sentiments. A negative relationship between the three elements indicates an imbalance, whereas a positive correlation between the elements signifies a balanced relationship.

2) Congruity Theory

Congruity Theory was established by Charles E. Osgood and Percy H. Tannenbaum. It is widely regarded as one of the most dependable theories in the field and is considered an extension of Fritz Heider’s Balance Theory.

The primary objective of this theory is to measure people’s attitudes toward an object or situation by considering both the direction and intensity of the attitude and then assigning a ranking to that attitude on a scale ranging from -3 to +3. A score of -3 is considered the highest degree of non-favorability, while a score of +3 is regarded as the most favourable. This theory is communication-oriented and based on an individual’s persuasive abilities.

According to this theory, the source delivering the persuasive message is considered O. The object towards which the attitude is developed is denoted as X. The person influenced by the compelling messages of O is denoted as P.

Suppose O makes a statement about concept X. Audiences already have a specific attitude towards both the source (O) and the concept (X). The assertion made by source O about concept X can be either positive or negative.

Any contradiction, such as an imbalance during the process, can impact or change the audience’s perception. Thus, according to Congruity Theory, source O’s communication skills and persuasiveness are responsible for influencing the audience’s attitudes.

3) Cognitive Dissonance Theory

In 1957, Leon Festinger introduced the Cognitive Dissonance Theory. According to this theory, when an individual begins to believe that two similar cognitions or thoughts regarding any object cannot be reconciled and will always contradict each other, irrespective of the fact that both cognitions are valid, a psychological state known as cognitive dissonance arises.

Sometimes, the dissonance produced by this conflict motivates the individual to harmonize the conflicting elements to reduce tension. Having different cognitions simultaneously creates an uncomfortable situation for an individual, impacting their psychological well-being. Experiencing a contradiction between two thoughts regarding an object can lead to cognitive dissonance.

This cognitive dissonance is sometimes positive, as different thoughts depict different ideas regarding that particular object. However, when conflicting thoughts lead to psychological distress, they are considered harmful.

Thus, individuals are motivated to eliminate cognitive dissonance because its eradication helps satisfy their minds. Additionally, once the dissonance is resolved, the cognition persists for an extended period, impacting an individual’s attitudes, behaviours, and beliefs.

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