Attitudes

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An attitude can be defined as a “predisposition to act in a certain way towards some aspect of one’s environment, including other people” Mednick et al, (1975). Many theories have been put forward to predict attitude change, Argyle (1994). However, attitudes are extremely difficult to define and can’t be directly seen or measured, so behaviour is inferred from what people say or do. An attitude is the subjective evaluation of objects, people, events, ideas, activities and feelings. This evaluation is normally of a positive or negative nature and is based normally on experiences which you have conflicting feelings towards. Attitudes have a past, present and future, to which behaviour develops in a sequence. Many believe there are three components to attitudes; these are known as affect (feelings), behaviour (action), and cognition (knowledge). An affective component that reflects a person’s feelings about or valuing of the object, a behavioural component, which is often referred to as the conative aspect and centres on how a person behaves towards an object, and finally the cognitive component which focuses on the beliefs around the attitude object. These are widely known as the ABC model of attitudes. Pennington (1986) states that the components are structured in such a way that the beliefs and values combine to give the attitude which is a negative or positive evaluation of something about which we hold certain beliefs. This then gives rise to an intention to behave in a certain way resulting, in appropriate circumstances, in behaviour. For example a certain member of parliament might believe that smoking cannabis is okay, she or he might value open and frank discussion about smoking cannabis and this leads to her intentionally behaving in a way that makes this known to others. In 1957 Leon Festinger developed the cognitive dissonance theory, which was largely based on the earlier work of Fritz Hieder (1944). Hieder first proposed the idea of social balance theory which set out the formula of cognitive social balance. Hieder believed that unbalanced attitudes leave people with mixed or unpleasant feelings and subsequent tension; to which people then reassign their feelings to balance these out. Hieder believed it was much simpler to accept that people whom we did not like had unpleasant qualities and as such we tend to assimilate with those who we think and act in a similar way to us. Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory implies that we have an innate drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony so as to avoid conflict or the negative state of dissonance, by altering existing cognitions and adding new ones to create consistency across belief systems. For example, when people smoke (behaviour), they are aware that it may cause cancer or lung disease (cognition), and so attitudes may change because of the conflict between beliefs and values. The person smokes because they enjoy it, however knowing it could eventually kill them, leads on to sometimes irrational and maladaptive behaviour. According to Festinger (1957), we hold a multitude of cognitions about the world and ourselves and when they clash, an imbalance is created, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. As the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, people are motivated to reduce or eliminate it, and achieve consonance or agreement. Festinger believed that if he created a situation where a person’s feelings regarding their own behaviour were inconsistent with that of their actions, this would create cognitive discomfort. Festinger was trying to establish how this discomfort could be reconciled so as to bring it into line with earlier cognition. In the world of consumer advertising, creative marketing strategies can lead you to think and act how you otherwise may not. Advertising companies are very skilful at causing dissonance especially when it comes to making large purchases such as a new home or a new car. Marketing...