Attitudes (AS AQA Psychology, unit 2-social cognition)

AQA AS psychology.

Social psychology-social cognition.


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What is an attitude?

Atttitude-a learned like or dislike of someone or something that influences our behaviour towards that thing or person.

Attitudes develop from our experiences and the information we receive, someone's attitude may be modelled on the attitudes of their parents or other influential factors. 

Atttitudes are hypothetical constructs that cannot be directly observed but are important in the study of social psychologu. 

Hint-psychologists refer to an 'attitude object' as you always have an attitude to do something. However, do not take it literally in such a narrow sense it can make people, situations, ideas or events, as well as objects.

Components of attitudes

Structure of attitudes--affective, behavioural and cognitive!

Functions of attitudes-adaptive, self-expressive, ego-defensive, knowledge and the social adjustment. 

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The structures of attitudes.


This is the emotional component: how the person evaluates or feels about the attitude object, e.g. likes or dislikes. 

E.g. I do not like smoking.


This is referred to as the conative component and this is how we intend to behave towards the attitude object.

E.g. I will never smoke.


This is the belief component, it includes facts: what the person knows, believes or percieves about the attitude object.

E.g. I know that smoking can cause lung cancer.

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The structures of attitudes, part II


Aim-identify differences vetween what people say they will do and what they actually do in a given situation.

Method-La Piere travelled around America with a Chinese couple and recorded how they were treated at hotels and restaurants.On only one occasion were they were refused service. Six months later, La Piere sent a letter to all the places he had visited, asking them if they would accept Chinese clients.

Results-Over 90% of the replies were negative, they would refuse Chinese clients.

Conclusion-This shows the difference between what people say they would do and actually do.


*The structural approach provides an  understanding of the link between attitudes, beliefs, values, intentions and behaviour.

*A further problem with the structural approach is that it does not tell us why people hold attitudes; what functions they serve for the individual.

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The functions of attitudes

Adaptive function-This attitude expresses our desire to obtain rewards or to avoid punishment. 

Ego-defensive function-This protects a person's self esteem and promotes a positive self-image.

Hint-this idea of an ego comes from Freud's psychodynamic theory.

Knowledge function-These attitudes are used in order to bring structure and order to all the information we must deal with in our daily lives. They allow us to predict what might happen and gives you a sense of control.

Social adjustment function-This helps a person to manage social situations by holding or communicating attitudes that impress other people and maintain harmony in a social group.

People who pay close attention to the impression they are making-high self-monitors.

People who are less concerned are low self-monitors.

Self-expressive function-This highlights our need to communicate with others and want people to know our values and opinions. 

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The functions of attitudes, part II


Aim- to investigate the ego-defensive function of attitudes towards lesbians and homosexuals.

Method-students were asked to write an essay about why they had a negative attitude towards lesbians and homosexuals. Herek scored each essay on the frequency of ego-defensive functions.

Results-Over 20% of essays contained ego-defensive functions.

Conclusion-the attitudes portrayed in the essays tended to overemphasise the individuals' identity with their own heterosexual status.


*Understanding the function of an attitude is helpful in knowing how easily it can be changed and how consistent it may be with other attitudes. 

*The functional approach has implications for understanding what may be most effective when attempting to change a person's attitude. 

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