When Do Attitudes Guide Behavior?Many social change agents, salespeople, advertisers, and politicians are interested in changing your behavior for their cause. The most direct way for them to accomplish their goal is to try to influence your behavior directly. The problem is that they don’t have much direct control over your behavior; you have a modicum of free will and choice on your side. No matter what they say or do, you get to decide what to buy, use, or who to vote for. So influencing behavior directly is difficult, especially if a social change agent wants to have a permanent effect on you.
Social change agents have a way around this problem, however. As you will explore in this week’s materials, your behavior may be a function of the way you evaluate an issue or object. Your attitude is one psychological factor that influences how you behave or interact with something in your social context. If a social change agent can change your attitude toward an object, from neutral or negative to positive, then you may be more likely to want to purchase the object, vote for it, or use it repeatedly. On the other hand, if the agent can change your attitude to be more negative toward an object or issue, you may be more likely to avoid it, vote against it, or tell someone else to steer clear of it. Perhaps the idea that attitudes guide behavior is so obvious, it shouldn’t even be covered in this course, or said aloud.
But does attitude change guarantee behavior change? It does only if the new attitude guides the target behavior. As you will see, the way that attitudes guide behavior is much more complex than many people suspect.
To prepare for this Discussion:
• Read Chapter 3 in the course text, Persuasion: Psychological Insights and Perspectives, focusing on factors that determine when attitudes guide behavior.
• Reflect on what “qualities of the behavior” moderate the relationship between attitudes and behavior. Be sure you understand how the concept of measurement “specificity” determines the relationship between attitudes and behavior.
• With respect to “qualities of the person,” think about the types of people that are likely to use their attitudes to guide their behavior. What are the two personality variables that predict higher-attitude behavior correspondence? Can you think of a way to make most people rely more on their attitudes when they act?
• Consider what two “qualities of the situation” you believe moderate the correspondence between attitudes and behavior. Think of an example of how norms reduce the ability to act on attitudes toward an object, issue, or group of people. Think about how time pressure inhibits the expression of attitudes.
• Consider which qualities of an attitude influence the ability to behave consistently with it. Think about how the attitude-behavior link may be increased by increasing the accessibility of the attitude.
With these thoughts in mind:
Post by Day 4 a description of an attitude with which you do not behave or operate consistently very often. Then briefly describe the qualities of the behavior, your personality, the types of situations, or the attitude itself, that cause you to behave or operate inconsistently with your attitude about the topic. In other words, explain why your attitudes don’t always guide your behavior and how these factors moderate the relationship between your attitudes and behavior. Finally, explain what would need to change in order for you to behave or operate more consistently with your attitude.