Psychology Behind Attitude
Positive Self Help

Psychology Behind Attitude


When somebody asks about likes or dislikes, a person has, they most likely present with the opinion they carry about that particular object or an event. They may phrase themselves as, “in my belief”, “according to me”, “in my opinion” et cetera. The opinion discussed, maybe moderately important to you, whereas another person’s opinion, even if it doesn’t match yours, won’t be important to you. Even if your opinion on a subject, which is not crucial in your life, does not match with another person or is the opposite, this won’t make a huge difference.

On the other hand, if somebody criticises your opinion on a topic, that holds a central place in your life, you may find that criticism is hurtful and demeaning. That opinion may be so important, that it starts influencing how you feel and act in response to someone bringing up that topic. This is when you have an attitude towards a subject.

Read More: Know the Power of Attitude and Persuasion

Overview of Attitude

It refers to a set of beliefs, a way of responding and feeling in a situation, person, or object. It is the mindset one has towards a subject often referenced to an attitude subject. Every attitude has an evaluative feature, that is, it is either positive, negative or neutral. For example, somebody may hold a positive attitude towards a particular celebrity that they like, whereas they may hold a negative attitude towards a person who broke their trust in the past.

It is accompanied by three factors, emotions, behaviour or tendency to act, and thoughts, a person has towards an attitude object. That is, when a particular opinion changes how a person feels and acts in response to a particular attitude object, they are set to hold an attitude.

The three factors mentioned above are a part of the tri-component model of attitude, also known as the ABC model component and C refers to the cognitive component. The effective component deals with feelings or emotional replies a person has towards a particular attitude, like love, hate, dislike, like, fear, et cetera. For example, if someone feels good and happy after working out, they may develop a good and positive attitude towards exercising and a healthy lifestyle.

Read More: Differences Between Positive & Negative Attitudes 

The behavioural component refers to the tendency to act, or how a person behaves in response to an attitude object. For example, if a person believes in a political agenda about women empowerment, it is most likely they would inculcate this in their behaviour, by promoting women empowerment, and helping women be independent.

The cognitive component includes the thoughts, beliefs, and mindset a person has towards a situation, an event or another person. It encompasses the functions of comprehending and understanding information.

For example, towards environment and greenery, a person may have a very strong mindset about conservation and how to preserve greenery, leading them to act on this mindset, like planting more trees or spreading awareness(the behavioural component) and feeling sad and hurt whenever they see a tree cut down(the affective component).

Another example could be a political party and its agenda, how some people form opinions as a reaction to the aim, the political party portrays it has, their opinion and thoughts influence their behaviour like not handling criticism towards that political party, defending its agenda and taking part in promoting it, and also associating the feeling component where you feel happy if they win or are elected as your representative, as you start resonating with them.

There are two very similar words to it, beliefs, and values, which usually overlap with attitude. Beliefs are the ground on which attitudes are formed, they are the building blocks of an attitude. For example, your belief in your religion. Values are attitude components, which have the word should or ought attached to them, making them a compulsion, for example, Values about honesty and loyalty.

Read More: Psychology Behind Loyalty

Formation of an Attitude

Attitudes are formed through experience and interactions. A person has during their lifetime. Attitudes have been a topic of interest in social psychology for far too long and the most common answer as to how attitudes are formed is that attitudes are learnt through experience and interactions. The learned feature of an attitude portrays that with time, we human beings start identifying with attitudes. We have a positive evaluation for some and start opposing those we have a negative one for, eventually leading to our identity formation as well. The attitude learning takes place through:

  • Association, associating one positive quality to a positive attitude and one negative feature to a negative attitude is what learning through association is all about. Consider an example, you make a new friend, and you find that you like their qualities and their way of living. They work out and live a positive and healthy lifestyle, and seeing your friend you start working out too, and eventually you develop a positive attitude towards such a lifestyle as well. This is because of the association you build between a good friend and a good lifestyle.
  • Learning of attitude can also happen through rewards and punishments associated with it. if a particular attitude and behaviour is rewarded and praised, the chances are likely that that attitude will gain a central position in the attitude system, whereas if an ideology or behaviour is punished, it will not get settled into the attitude system of an individual. For example, how parents deal with mistakes their child creates, is associated with the positive or the negative attitude The child has towards mistakes or failures it may face in the future.
  • Learning attitudes through cultural norms and groups, and the way of life in a society. If a trait or a quality is accepted and placed in a cultural group, chances are high that people in that group will form a positive attitude towards that quality. For example, how in some groups, veganism is promoted and praised, leading to people of that group developing a positive attitude towards veganism and promoting its ideologies.
  • Observation or modelling is another important aspect of how attitudes are learnt. Many times, individuals learn attitudes through observation of rewards and punishment others get, in response to their behaviour, feelings and thoughts they have about a particular object. For example how a child learns through observation of their parents to respect elders and get praise and approval.

Along with this, there are many factors that influence the learning of attitude, like exposure to information and media, peer groups, family, cultural background or reference groups and most importantly, personal experiences of an individual.

Read More: Self Punishment and Self Love

Change in Attitudes

Learn, unlearn, relearn. This is what happens when attitude changes. When attitudes are in the formative stage or at an earlier stage, they are more likely to change or modify, in response to the environment and needs of the situation. It can change through experiences and unlearning. What was learnt before?

Two-step concept of attitude change

SM Mohsin, an Indian psychologist talked about the two-step concept, which involves a target, the one whose attitude is to be changed and a source who will influence the attitude change.

  • In Step 1, Identification happens. The source must have a positive attitude and love for the target, while the target should trust and respect the source.
  • In step 2, the source changes his perception of an issue. For example, adolescents and teenagers, change their attitudes, seeing influencers on social media, change their attitude towards a particular brand of clothing.

Read More: Health Harmony: Balancing Act for Sustainable Behaviour Changes

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance theory talks about how psychologically people like to be consonant with their behaviours and thoughts. When behaviours and opinions of an individual about an attitude object differ from each other, psychological unrest takes place. To settle this psychological unrest, people usually change their opinion or behaviour, to be consonant with their affect and tendency to act, leading to attitude change. For example, a person who may preach about the negative effects of junk food to others and then go home to eat fast food, because they don’t have time to cook, or they don’t have interest in it, leads to cognitive dissonance and psychological unrest. They may either try to change their opinion about junk food or they may try to eat healthy food as well.

Read More: Cognitive Dissonance Theory by Leon Festinger

Attitudes play a very important and central role in an individual’s life as they shape the personality and identity of the person. Attitudes influence the behaviour, and its course as well. Understanding the formation of such attitudes and recognising if their structure needs change Can be very pivotal as it helps in adopting a more holistic approach to life.

References +
  • Attitude and social cognition. (n.d.). In Psychology (pp. 106–108).
  • Lumen Learning. (n.d.). Attitudes | Introduction to Psychology.
  • Mcleod, S., PhD. (2023). Components of Attitude: ABC model. Simply Psychology.
  • MSEd, K. C. (2024, May 6). The components of attitude. Verywell Mind.
  • Niwlikar, B. (2022, June 2). Attitude Psychology: Definition, components, types, properties and functions. – Careershodh. Careershodh.

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