Understanding Attitudes in Social Psychology

By Daniel Richardson

Part of Social Psychology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

An attitude is the value the person places on something, and Social Psychology researchers often refer to that ‘something’ as the attitude object. An attitude is an evaluation, at the simplest level, as to whether or not the attitude object is good or bad.

  • Understanding your ABC: Every attitude has three dimensions. These are Affect (attitudes embody feelings and emotions), Behaviour (attitudes connect to the way you actually behave) and Cognition (attitudes are expressed in thoughts and speech). It’s as easy as ABC.

  • Getting what attitudes do: Attitudes have four basic functions: The knowledge function (they help you make sense of the world); the utilitarian function (they can serve a practical purpose, and achieve goals); the ego defence function (they help you to have a positive view of yourself); the value-expressive function (they express values fundamental to who you are).

  • Realising that attitudes can be measured: By asking the right questions in the right way, you can establish a subject’s basic attitudes on any subject. Ask a lot of questions of a lot of subjects, and you can measure attitudes society-wide.

  • Understanding that attitudes can be influenced by asking questions in the right way: Even when people tell you their attitudes towards something, these stated attitudes don’t necessarily match up with how they’re going to behave in the future, or what they really think. Exactly how the researcher asks the question can strongly determine the answer.