BEHAVIOR is difficult to define. It has been a subject of debate for many years.
In most animals, the nervous system consists of two parts- the central and peripheral nervous systems. It is most commonly believed that complexity in the behavior of an organism is correlated with the complexity of its nervous system. Thus, organisms with more complex nervous systems generally have a greater capacity to learn new responses and thus adjust their behavior. Stimuli cause the organism to react in response. This response could be internal or external, conscious or subconscious and voluntary or involuntary. It is the response/reaction that is called behavior.
In humans, behavior is believed to be controlled primarily by the nervous system and the endocrine (hormonal) system. Human behavior is more complex than that of other organisms because of man’s standing on the evolutionary scale. Again, man possesses the ability to distinguish right from wrong (conscience) and so our actual behavior often appears to be the result of certain covert cognitive activity including moral judgment.
Let’s look at attitude
a. “An attitude is a psychological tendency we express when we evaluate something or someone” (Eagly and Chaiken, 1993). Quoted in Matlin, M. W (1999;510)
b. “Learned predisposition to respond in a favorable or unfavorable manner to a particular person, behavior, belief or thing”. Quoted in Feldman, R. S (1996; 605)
c. “is a mixture of belief and emotion that predisposes a person to respond to other people, objects, or institutions in a positive or negative way”.
You must have identified the following keywords in the above definitions:
- Tendency/Predisposition: an inclination or tendency to do something, for example, behave in a particular way
2. Evaluate: to examine and judge (value, quality, importance and condition)
3. Object of evaluation: We could evaluate a person, behavior, belief or thing.
4. Positive/negative predisposition: attitude may be positive or negative towards something or someone.
ATTITUDE is therefore defined as an inherited or learned tendency to behave positively or negatively towards an attitude object with or without cognitive evaluation.
Now what is the relationship between behavior and attitude?
Social Psychologists consider attitude to follow the ABC model;
· Affective (A): Affective simply concerns emotions. Emotions refer to the inner feelings that we all have. They are responses to life situations, varying in type and intensity according to the experience of the moment. Both positive and negative emotions are responses to life experiences.
· Cognitive(C): The word cognitive comes from cognition, which is an act or process of knowing. Cognition includes attention, memory, reasoning, judgment, imaging, thinking, problem solving and speech/language.
Let us see how these components of the ABC model apply to our daily lives, using this example.
Jason loves hip life music;
· On the affective aspect, Jason feels that hip life music is fun and uplifting.
· Behaviorally, Jason is likely to turn to a hip life music station on radio when driving. He could also buy some hip life music CDs or go to a hip life music concert.
For the cognitive component, Jason might believe that hip life music is superior. In other words, an individual’s behavior in a particular context can be linked to his/her attitude towards the concerned attitude object. However, one cannot predict a person’s behavior using what the person feels about something. This depends on the circumstance, strength of attitude and how salient the attitude is. In simpler terms, attitude can be a pretty poor predictor of actual behavior in a lot of situations. Research has shown that what people say and what people do are often two different things. Further research indicates that attitude can predict behavior only under certain conditions. Clarke et al.,1999 for example found out that although people indicated on a survey that they believed in protecting the environment and would be willing to pay for more fruits and vegetables raised under such conditions, those same people were seen to buy the ecologically friendly fruit only in higher income grocery stores where consumers had the financial means to. Another factor is that people may hold a general attitude about something without reflecting that attitude in their behavior. For example, doctors and nurses may hold a general attitude that people should do everything they can to protect their health and promote wellness, yet some of these doctors and nurses still smoke tobacco or cigarettes, fail to exercise or often get too little sleep. Yet another factor is strength of attitude. Some attitudes are stronger than others and stronger attitudes are more likely to predict behavior than weak ones. Someone who quits smoking due to ill health may have a more negative attitude about secondhand smoking than someone who quits on a whim.
Again, the importance or salience of a particular attitude in a given situation also has an impact on behavior. The more important attitude appears, the more likely behavior will match the attitude. Someone who is anti-smoking is more likely to confront a smoker breaking the rules in a hospital, than a smoker outside the building.
You can see clearly from the above that behavior and attitude go hand in hand and that how an individual behaves can be predicted by his or her attitude towards an attitude object, depending on certain factors.
Cognitive dissonance refers to the feelings of discomfort that arise when a person’s behavior or attitude is in conflict with the person’s values and beliefs, or when new information that is contrary to their beliefs is presented to them. This discrepancy creates a state of tension (dissonance), which is akin to anxiety. This tension in turn motivates the individual to change the attitude, the behavior or the perception of the anomalous information in order to eliminate the discrepancy and the accompanying tension.
According to Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory, people who behave in ways that contradict their own attitudes, experience an unpleasant state of internal tension known as cognitive dissonance. To reduce that tension, they adjust their attitudes to be consistent with their behavior.
It means cognitive dissonance may also arise when people carry out an act contrary to their attitudes, which frequently leads to attitude or behavior change. Two major factors that influence the extent to which dissonance arises and requires resolution are the perception of choice and the size of rewards and punishments. For example, if you have a gun to your head, you will easily change an attitude you publicly professed. Also, the smaller a reward or punishment, the greater the attitude change because larger incentives minimize dissonance according to Festinger.
Bem, a behaviorist, opposed Festinger’s theory of dissonance. He offered the SELF PERCEPTION theory as an alternative. He contended that individuals infer their attitudes, emotions and other internal states by observing their behavior. Thus, if at gunpoint they slander their country, they conclude that they had to avoid dying, not because they dislike their country. According to Bem’s theory, the attitude people report depends on their behavior, and as their behavior changes (as a result of changes in reinforcement contingencies), so again will their attitude. Thus, no motivation, tension or perceived inconsistencies are involved in behavioral change.
In drawing curtains to a close, attitude has 3 components; affective, behavior and cognitive. These components are not always in harmony although humans wish to maintain harmony. Disharmony creates a state of tension/conflict. In a bid to reduce it, we change (behavioral change), a component of our attitude.
- Macleod, Saul. "Cognitive Dissonance". Updated Feb 05, 2018. Retrieved from: Cognitive Dissonance Theory | Simply Psychology
- Drew, Chris, PhD. November 13, 2021. The three components of Attitude (ABC/Tripartite Model). Retrieved from: The ABC Model of Attitude, Explained! (2022) - Helpful Professor
Lambda Stories Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.