Attitudes: Concepts, Functions, Formation, Types of Attitudes

Attitude refers to the individual judgments concerning objects, people or events. They refer to  favorable or unfavorable statements which reflects how an individual feels about a particular object, people or events. It can be stated as the collection of beliefs, feelings and behavioral intentions towards an object. Attitudes can be related to emotion but they differ as attitudes are judgmental whereas emotions are experienced. Thus, attitude can be described as a person’s learnt predisposition to respond towards objects, people or events which are specific and consistent.

Attitudes are evaluative statements. They respond one's feeling either favorably or unfavorably to persons, objects or/and events. In other words, attitudes reflect how one feels about something. For example, Professor Philip Kotler says, "I like teaching." He is expressing his attitude about his work. Attitudes are not same as values, but the two are interrelated.

Attitude is a mental and neural stage of readiness organized through experience exerting a dynamic influence upon the individual’s response to all situations and objects with which he is related. It is a learned predisposition towards aspects of our environment. Attitude is a complex mental state involving beliefs, feelings, values and dispositions to act in certain ways.
  1. A position of the body or manner of carrying oneself.
  2. A state of mind or a feeling, a disposition.
Attitudes are evaluative statements-either favorable or unfavorable concerning objects, people or events. They reflect how one feels about something. Attitude is the bend of one’s mind towards an object or subject. It involves liking of disliking people, work and objects. Desire is an attitude which directs people to adopt certain behavior. Attitude is developed through learning, although the family, society and nation exert great influence in the attitude formation of people. Attitude is a combination of popular belief and interest. For example, the attitude of male workers is that female workers cannot perform hard work. Attitude is learnt and expressed, apart from being primarily acquired by people through interaction with members of family and society. Attitude formation is related to the cognitive aspects of behavior. The concept of attitude is explained by different experts are as follows:

“Attitudes are evaluative statements either favorable or unfavorable concerning objects, people or events. They reflect how one feels about something.” – Stephen P. Robbins
“The word attitude describes a persistent tendency to feel and behave in a particular way towards some object”. – Joseph Reitz
“By attitudes we mean the beliefs, feelings and action tendencies of an individual or group of individuals towards objects, ideas and people. Quite often persons and objects or ideas become associated in the mind of individuals and as a result attitudes become multidimensional and complex.” – M. L. Blum
“Attitudes are learned predispositions towards aspects of our environment. They may be positively or negatively directed towards certain people, service of institutions.” - N. L. Munn
From the above definitions, attitude is a hypothetical construct that represents an individual’s like or dislike for an item. Attitudes are positive, negative or neutral views of an object. Attitude can also be defined as a multiplicative function of beliefs and values as given in the equation.

Attitudes = Beliefs + Values

The characteristics of attitude consists of:
  1. Multiplicity: Attitudes are constituted by a number of elements. That is, there are many ingredients in the formation of attitudes. For example, family, society, environment etc.
  2. Relations to Needs: Attitudes vary in relation to the needs they serve, e.g., attitudes of a person towards sports and games serve only entertainment needs of a favorableness or un-favorableness towards something or somebody.
  3. Valence: Valence refers to the magnitude, could be low or high. Low valence means a person has an indifferent attitude towards something or somebody. High valence refers to a person having extremely favorable or unfavorable attitude towards something or somebody.
  4. Related to Feeling and Beliefs: Attitudes are related to ones feeling and beliefs towards something or somebody.
  5. Attitudes affect behavior: Attitudes affect behavior either positively or negatively because attitudes affect one’s perceptions.
  6. Attitudes Undergo Change: Generally speaking, attitudes remain in a person for a longer duration. But the same can undergo changes if persons are exposed to different situation they like.

Thus, an attitude refers to a persistent tendency to feel and behave in a particular way towards people objects or events. They make up personality of an individual. The formation of attitude consists of: 

i) Situational Determinations
The attitude of an individual may differ at different situations as the prevailing situation provides information to individual to form their feelings or emotions. 

ii) Personality Traits:
Traits describe the nature of an individual personality. The personality trait of an individual influences the work attitude as individual with positive affectivity tends to have an overall sense of well-being and experiences positive attitude. The person with negative affectivity tends to feel nervous, tense and worried experiencing negative attitude. 

iii) Components of Attitudes:
The interrelation can be understand by the three components of the attitudes e.g. cognition, affect and behavior.
  1. Cognitive component: It refers to the beliefs and information about object, people or event which affect the attitude to be formed. It is the opinion or belief segment of an attitude.
  2. Affective component: It is the emotional or feeling segment of an attitude; feeling can be positive, negative or neutral. 
  3. Behavioral component: It refers to the intentional purpose to behave in certain way which can be directly observed. It is an intention to behave in a certain way towards someone or something.
Hence, in sum
  • Attitudes are related to the feelings and beliefs of people. 
  • Positive attitudes respond to persons, objects or events.
  • Attitudes affect behavior either positively or negatively.
  • Attitudes undergo changes.

Functions of Attitudes

Attitudes are evaluative statement. It may be either favorable or unfavorable. Attitudes are important for understanding individual motivation and behavior. They perform various functions.
  • Attitudes serve as a basis for expressing values. They also help to defend self-image. They reconcile contradictions in the opinions of people.
  • Attitudes help reduce absenteeism, turnover, grievances and accidents. 
  • Attitudes determine job satisfaction and performance of the employee. 
  • Attitudes help people to adjust to their working environment.
Besides mentioned above, attitude perform;
  • Instrumental function
  • Noetic function 
  • Expressive function

Formation of Attitudes

Attitude is a combination of popular belief and interest. It is the bend of one’s mind towards an object or subject. It involves liking and disliking people, work and objects. Desire is an attitude which directs people to adopt certain behavior. Attitude is developed through learning, although the family, society and nation exert great influence in the attitude formation of people. For example, the attitude of male workers is that female workers cannot perform hard work. Attitude is learnt and expressed, apart from being primarily acquired by people through interaction with members of family and society. Attitude formation is related to the cognitive aspects of behavior. Following factors lead to the formation of the attitudes.

1. Economic Factors
The economic factors play important role in forming desired attitude of an individual. A person’s attitude towards a host of issues such as pleasure, work, marriage, working women etc. is influenced by economic factors such as his economic status in the society, rate of inflation in the economy, government’s economic policies and the country’s economic condition.

2. Family Factors
Family factors is the factor that affect in forming positive attitude. During childhood, a person spends a major part of his time in the family. Thus, he learns from the family members who provide him with ready made attitudes on a variety of issues such as education, work, health, religion, politics, economics etc. Every family instills or attempts to instill such attitudes among its members as are considered appropriate to its socio-economic status in the society. Therefore, a person from a middle class family may hold a different attitude towards spending than a person from an affluent family.

3. Social Factors
Another very essential factor that is used to develop attitude is social factor. Societies differ in terms of language, culture, norms, values, believe etc. all of which influence a person’s attitude. For example, people in India generally hold different attitude towards communication from the people of China. Thus, people belonging to a nation develop attitudes which would be in tune with the needs of the society.

4. Political Factors
Politics plays a crucial role in the administration of a country. Therefore, political factors such as ideologies of the political parties, political stability and the behavior of the political leaders greatly affect the attitudes of the people.

5. Psychological Factors
The psychological makeup of a person is made up of his perceptions, ideas, beliefs, values, information etc. It has a crucial role in determining a person’s attitude. For example, if a person perceives that generally all superiors are exploitative, he is likely to develop a negative attitude towards his superior who in fact may not be exploitative.

Attitudes are not inherited. These are acquired or learnt by the people from the environment in which they interact. The formation of attitudes is broadly classified into two forces.

1. Direct Experience: One's direct experience with a object or person serves as a powerful source for his/her attitude formation. In other words, attitudes are formed on the basis of one's past experience in concerned object or person. Take your own case, for instance. How do you know that you like organizational behavior or dislike financial management? The answer is that you have formed these attitudes from your experience in studying the two objects. Research has shown that attitudes derived from the direct experience are more powerful, stronger, and durable and are difficult to change than are attitudes that are formed through indirect experience. This is because of their availability in our cognitive processes.

2. Social Learning: The process of deriving attitudes from family, peer groups, religious organizations and culture is called social learning. In social learning, an individual acquires attitudes from his/her environments in an indirect manner. Social learning starts from early age when children derive certain attitudes from their parents. This is often evident from when young children express their political preferences similar to those held by their parents.

The effect of attitudes on behavior is usually a complex phenomenon. It is widely accepted how that a simple, direct link between attitudes and behavior does not exist. Ajen and Fishbein have developed a model of the attitude-behavior relationship. They suggest that behavior is more predictable and understandable, if we focus on a person's specific intentions to behave in a certain way rather than solely on their attitudes towards that intentions depend on both attitudes and norms regarding the behavior.

'Norms' are rules of behavior or proper ways of acting, which have been accepted as appropriate by members of a group or society. They represent 'social pressure' to perform or not to perform the behavior in question.

Sources of Attitudes

Individuals are not born with certain attitudes. Attitudes are not inherited. These are acquired and learned by individuals form the situation they face in the life. The formation of attitudes depends on various factors. Unlike personality, attitudes are expected to change as a function of experience. Hereditary variables may affect attitudes – but may do so indirectly. Attitudes are acquired from parents, teachers and peer group members. In our early years, we begin modeling our attitudes after those we admire, respect or may even fear. We observe the way family and friends behave, and we shape our attitudes and behavior to align with theirs. People imitate the attitudes of popular individuals or those they admire and respect.

The important sources of acquiring attitudes are as follows:
1. Society
Societies play an important role in forming attitudes of an individual. Attitudes are also learnt from others as for example, from parents, teachers, superiors, models etc. An individual may learn by having contact with others or even watching models over the T.V. In fact, social learning makes it possible for a person to develop attitude towards something even when he has no direct experience of the attitude object. For example, an unemployed person entering the job market for the first time, may be favorably disposed towards a government job because others in the society have such an attitude towards government jobs. Thus, the society is a convenient way of developing attitudes.

2. Psychological Factors
The attitude of a person is determined by psychological factors like his ideas, values, beliefs, perceptions etc. all these have a complex role in determining a person’s attitudes. For example, if a person perceives that all the workers are lazy, he is likely to develop a negative attitude towards his workers.

3. Personal Experience
The quality of a person’s direct experience with the attitude object determines his attitude. For example, if a worker finds his work repetitive, inadequately paid, supervisor too tough and co-workers not so co-operative, he would develop a negative attitude towards his job because the quality of his direct experience with the job is negative.

4. Association
A new attitude object may be associated with an old attitude object and the attitude towards the latter may be transferred towards the former. For example, if a newly recruited worker remains most of the time in the company of a worker towards whom the supervisor has a favorable attitude, the supervisor is likely to develop a positive attitude towards the new worker also. Hence, the favorable attitude for the old worker has been transferred towards the new worker.

5. Family
Family plays a significant role in the primary stage of attitudes held by individuals. Initially, a person develops certain attitudes from his parents, brothers, sisters and elders in the family. There is a high degree of relationship between parent and children in attitudes found in them.

Types of Attitude

Although attitudes are generally affective (or emotional) in nature, they also have a cognitive (information or knowledge) element, and a conative (action) element, in terms of acting or behaving on the basis of that feeling. A person can have thousands of attitudes, but organizational behavior (OB) focuses our attention on a very limited number of job-related attitudes. These job related attitudes tap positive or negative evaluations that employees hold about aspects of their work environment.

Most of the research in OB has been concerned with following three attitudes:
1. Job Satisfaction
The term job satisfaction refers to an individual’s general attitude towards his job. A person with a high level of job satisfaction holds positive attitude towards the job while a person, who is dissatisfied with his job, holds negative attitude about the job. When people speak of employee attitudes more often than not, they mean job satisfaction. In fact, the two are frequently used interchangeably because of the high importance of OB researchers have given to job satisfaction.

2. Job Involvement
While there is not complete agreement over what the term means, a workable definition states that job involvement measures the degree to which a person identifies psychologically with his job and considers his perceived performance level important to self-worth. Employees with a higher level of job involvement strongly identify themselves with the organizations and really care about the kind of work they do. High levels of job involvement have been found to be related to fewer absences and lower resignation rate.

3. Organizations commitment
Organizations commitment is defined as a state in which an employee identifies with a particular organization and its goals, and wishes to maintain membership in the organizations. So, high job involvement means identifying with one’s specific job, while high organizational commitment means identifying with one’s employing organizations.

Ways of Changing Attitude in a Person

1. Filling in the Information Gap
Insufficient information often leads to unfavorable attitudes. For example, a student develops an anti-teacher attitude because of the ignorance of the good intentions of the teacher. In this circumstance, providing the student with sufficient information can change the attitudes of a student.

2. Use of Fear
It is believed that attitudes can be changed by the use of fear in a person. However, one has to be careful in administering this technique because high degree of fear may cause stubbornness in a person. Experts are of the opinion that a moderate level of fear makes the people change their attitudes.

3. Resolving Discrepancies
As discussed earlier behavior and attitude are interrelated and if there is any discrepancy between attitude and behavior then it has to be resolved. This is one way of changing attitudes of a person.

4. Impact of Peers
One of the factors in formation of attitude of person is peers. Peers with high credentials can cause change in the attitude of a person. At the same time peers with low credibility cannot influence.

5. Co-opting Approach
It is a process of involving dissatisfied people to improve things. People are taught to co-operate with each other.

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