This article attempts to explain the various mechanisms through which we develop or form an attitude that influences our behaviour.
In school, I never did well in Accounts. I always scored low and would constantly look for excuses to skip class. My teacher, on entering the class, would shut all doors and windows, throw punishments around like confetti, and bang the duster on the table very loudly. I didn’t like them. By the principle of association, I developed a dislike for the subject because I disliked the teacher. Thus, I associated the negative qualities of the teacher with the subject they taught.
Similarly, I’m sure you can think about one subject you always liked, just because you liked the teacher. The positive association will lead to a positive attitude and a negative association will lead to a negative attitude.
What are attitudes? Psychologists define attitude as a state of mind, a set of features, or thoughts about a subject that has an evaluative feature. They are lasting evaluations of various aspects of the social world that are stored in memory. This can include evaluations of people, issues, objects, or events. Such evaluations are often positive or negative, but they can also be uncertain.
This also plays out quite unmistakeably during election season in our country. Our attitudes are developed first, by associating cues and heuristics to a prominent figure and second, by associating the prominent figure to the party itself.
Here’s a hypothetical marketing strategy- link mass-appealing qualities (like honesty, ‘nationalism’, etc) to a particular person via media and advertising campaigns and make them the face of your party. Then, contest all elections on their name, such that the voters feel like they’re voting for that particular person, rather than the other candidates of the party.
At the same time, find a way to label and present your opponents as ‘corrupt’ or ‘anti-national’ and you’ve got a victory at your hands; because while it is tempting to think of attitudes as rigid, fully considered evaluations, that may not always be the case.
If an individual is praised or rewarded for exhibiting a particular attitude, chances are high that they may further develop it. Perhaps this why our religious inclinations are often the same as our parents’ because questioning certain practices are often viewed as stupidity or rebellion and not given much attention.
Reward or punishment increase or decrease the further development of an attitude. Consider this case- If a person involved in an open firing in a civil protest were to be given a party ticket, this would serve as a reward or positive reinforcement. This would encourage them to further develop and exhibit their hostile attitude. However, if they were to be fired and brought to justice, this would serve as a punishment and discourage them from further developing and exhibiting this attitude.
Sometimes, attitudes are developed by observing others being rewarded or punished for expressing thoughts or showing behaviour or a particular kind towards the subject. Per my previous example, rewarding the said person would encourage hostile attitudes in us, while punishing them would discourage it.
Over time, social norms may become a part of our social thinking patterns, in the form of attitude. A classic example here is that offering money, sweets, fruits, and flowers in a place of worship is normative behaviour in certain religions. When we see that such behaviour is socially accepted and approved, we may ultimately develop a positive attitude towards it and practice it ourselves. We can also develop a positive attitude towards those who practice such behaviour.
For example, we have been taught that feeding the hungry is an appreciable virtue. Thus, we often find our leaders tweeting and Instagramming their ‘lunch with the poor’ photos. Now, change the narrative here to: give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime; you will find the same leaders criticizing their opposition for doing what had previously done. Here, the issue isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. What you need to look at here is how narratives based on a target audience are formulated to influence their attitude formation.
Many attitudes are learned in a social context individually, i.e., without the necessary physical presence of the others. Huge amounts of information provided through various mediums lead to the formation of both positive and negative attitudes. Remember the fake news phenomenon and how it has blurred the lines between propaganda and information?
From discrediting political leaders to misreporting historical facts to promoting biases, the fake news creators have done it all. If your best friend tells you that her neighbour is a mean person, you are most likely to believe this information without fact-checking. Thus, you will develop a negative attitude towards the neighbour. Now, imagine this situation magnified to a worldwide scale. How often do we care enough to fact check before forming opinions and attitudes?
But why do we develop certain attitudes? According to Firebrand Marketing- “Researchers have suggested that attitudes form for four primary reasons:
We tend to form positive attitudes towards things that lead to perceived gains and negative attitudes to things we perceive as a loss. “I like sushi because it’s healthy; I don’t like soda since it’s fattening and rots my teeth.”
Attitudes help us make sense of the world around us by giving us a framework to evaluate it. So, in our store example above, when faced with lots of shops to choose from, we orient towards the one we had a good experience before.
We form attitudes that reflect our values or which reflect those of our social set. “Sporty tech adopters like me wear Apple Watches, therefore I like Apple Watches.” Of note here is that we may actually have no personal experience of Apple Watches or even really like them, but because they reflect the attitudes of our peer group, we adopt the same view.
We adopt an attitude to save ourselves from anything which threatens our ego or sense of self-worth. “Sporty Apple-Watch-wearing tech adopters like me don’t eat at Taco Bell or shop in K-Mart.” It just doesn’t fit our self-image so we form an attitude against those brands even though we may have no experience of them.”
Once formed, these attitudes influence our behaviour. They can also make it easy to predict our behaviour. Marketers have used these principles to positively influence our attitudes towards their products and services. If we understand how and why our attitudes develop, we can avoid this influence and the subsequent trap it might lead us to.
Featured Image Credits: Creative Bloq
Featured Image Caption: Huge amounts of information provided through various mediums lead to the formation of both positive and negative attitudes.
Kashvi Raj Singh