What are Attitudes?

What are attitudes? Normally, we talk about positive or negative attitudes, good or bad. However, not even from social psychology do they agree to define attitudes. These go beyond being negative or positive and have different components whose relationship is ambiguous.

In general, it can be said that attitudes are evaluations that have a function: getting knowledge. Thus, when meeting a new person, the first thing we are going to do is evaluate it and develop an attitude toward it. In other words, we are going to make a judgment of that person. The information issued through this trial will allow us to simplify and structure the world. Therefore, attitudes can be understood as a social knowledge constructed from experiences, beliefs and feelings.

Components of attitudes

Attitudes have three components. These are the beliefs, the feelings and the behaviors. These three components are understood as the responses that can be given to the stimuli that provoke attitudes. Recovering the example of the previous paragraphs, if a person awakens a positive attitude in us, this person will generate positive feelings, such as joy when we meet her again.

These three components refer to the cognitive, the emotional and the behavioral. For example, a well-known distinction is that which is made between the stereotype (cognitive component). prejudice (emotional or affective component) and discrimination (behavioral component).

Based on these three components, the tripartite model of attitudes emerges. According to this model, attitudes are how we feel, what we think and the inclination to act that we adopt. However, other models tell us that attitudes are include beliefs. Thus, the other components would be given by what we think.

“When we remember some people we’ve loved, we do not sometimes make the difference between what they were for us and what we wanted them to be.”

-Fran├žois Mauriac-

Relationships between the components of attitudes

Another point where there is no consensus is in the relationship between attitude and behavior. Those who claim that attitudes have the three components-cognitive, emotional and behavioral-encounter a problem when beliefs and behaviors do not match. On many occasions we do not behave in tune with what we believe. For example, we have a very positive opinion of a person, but when we ask for help we do not give it to them.

One of the solutions to this discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors is in the emotions. What we feel is going to be what one believes and what we do. In this way, if we think that a person is very positive, we will help her as long as positive emotions are generated at the moment she asks for help.

Another solution takes reference to past behaviors. Thus, the behaviors in the present will be the same as we had in the past. Therefore, we will only help the person if when we asked for help previously we gave it to them. Otherwise, we will not help you again.

“There’s always something in our life that we wish we had not done. But it’s done. And the only thing we can do is to take out of this error the most favorable consequences.”

-Hugo Betti-

Other ways of understanding the three components of attitudes

There are also ways of seeing attitudes as unitary. That is, not taking into account the three components previously mentioned when thinking about what the attitudes are. Thus, a unitary definition tells us that attitudes are an evacuative disposition to respond to an object or event in a favorable or unfavorable way. In this way, the three components would be three ways in which the attitude would be expressed in an observable way.

The definition of attitudes is not simple. Even so, we leave one of the most used: attitudes are categorizations of a stimulus produced by an object in an evaluative dimension based on, or generated by, three kinds of information: cognitive, affective / emotional and / or concerning past behaviors or intentions.