It is common to see people reacting differently to the same situation and have different opinions about the same person. Some people find goodness in every person while others find something bad in everyone. Some people are happy in their organisation while others are unhappy and dissatisfied in the same situation. William Shakespeare rightly said, ‘There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.’
In psychology, attitude refers to a set of emotions, beliefs and behaviour toward a particular object, person, thing or event. Attitude is often a result of experience or upbringing and it can have a powerful influence over behaviour.
Attitude is a learned tendency to evaluate people, issues, objects, events, activities, or ideas in a certain way. It is a psychological tendency that is expressed by the evaluation of a particular entity with some degree of favour or disfavour. It may range from extremely negative to extremely positive.
There are three different components of attitude, which are sometimes referred to as CAB or the ABCs of attitude.
1. Cognitive component
This part of attitude deals with your thoughts, beliefs or knowledge about a subject or an object. For example: ‘I believe spiders are dangerous.’
2. Affective component
This part of attitude explains how an object, person, issue or event makes you feel. For example, if you believe that spiders are dangerous, you may feel: ‘I am scared of spiders.’
3. Behavioural component
It explains how your attitude influences your actions or behaviour. For example, if you are scared of spiders as you believe them to be dangerous, you may say: ‘I will avoid spiders and scream if I see one.’ Attitude can be of two types:
1. Explicit: We are consciously aware of some aspects of our attitude and we also know how they clearly influence our behaviour and beliefs.
2. Implicit: We are unconscious or unaware of such thoughts as they are deeply ingrained in our mind. However, such subconscious thoughts also deeply influence our beliefs and behaviour.
Duality of Attitude
Carl Jung, one of the founders of psychoanalysis, defines attitude as ‘a readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way’. Attitude is usually found in pairs. Within this broad definition, Jung defines several kinds of attitude. They are as follows:
1. Conscious and the Unconscious
The presence of these two kinds of attitude is extremely frequent, one conscious and the other unconscious. Webster’s dictionary defines consciousness as ‘awareness, especially of something within oneself’. Our conscious mind refers to our awareness of our own thoughts, images, feelings, attitudes, beliefs and sensations. Conscious attitude implies that we are aware of our own thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
The unconscious mind represents that part of our life experience of which we are unaware. Our unconscious mind is like that part of an iceberg that remains underwater. Our conscious mind, likened to the tip of an iceberg, represents only a small fraction of your total mind (conscious plus unconscious). We are aware of our conscious attitude but unaware of the unconscious attitude which lies deep in our mind.
2. Extraversion and Introversion
People differ in their attitude when dealing with others. They can be extrovert or introvert with the following characteristics.
3. Rational and Irrational Attitude
Rational attitude refers to the thoughts, feelings and actions that accord with reason, an attitude based on objective values established by practical experience. Jung described the psychological functions of thinking and feeling as rational because they are decisively influenced by reflection.
Irrational attitude is one that is not grounded in reason. According to Jung, the psychological functions of intuition and sensation are described as irrational. Intuition and sensation are functions that find fulfilment in the absolute perception of the flux of events. Hence, by their very nature, they will react to every possible occurrence and be attuned to the absolutely contingent and must therefore lack all rational direction. It would, however, be quite wrong to regard them as ‘unreasonable’ because they base themselves entirely on experience.
4. Individual and Social Attitude
Each individual has a different attitude depending upon his own uniqueness. The social attitude includes different types of –isms like socialism, capitalism, liberalism or conservatism.
5. Abstract and Creative Attitude
Abstract means existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence. Jung defined an abstract attitude to consist of ‘a view that is contrasted with concretism’. It means not using any concrete or solid concepts related to direct observations or sensations, but using imagination to understand the world through ideas.
A creative person is able to convert his ideas and imagination into a concrete form through action. A person with a creative attitude focuses on his life, knows what he wants to see manifested and then converts his thoughts into reality.
Functions of Attitude
Why people develop a certain attitude is a matter of great curiosity and study. We can find divergent attitudes between two siblings brought up in the same family. There are many theories to understand attitude and explain how it contributes to the overall well-being of an individual. It is largely believed that people develop different attitudes as their psychological needs are different.
Daniel Katz, an Emeritus professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan and an expert in organisational psychology, proposed a functionalist theory of attitude. He opined that our attitudes are determined by the functions they serve for us. People hold specific attitudes because these attitudes help them achieve their basic goals. Katz distinguishes four types of psychological functions of attitudes:
1. Utilitarian or instrumental
1. Utilitarian or Instrumental
We adopt attitudes that are rewarding or help us to avoid punishment. For example, we favour political parties that will advance our economic well-being. Most people prefer a political party which favours low taxes, provides more employment opportunities and increases social welfare benefits.
In short, people are selfish in nature and they choose an attitude that serves their self-interest. For example, we can observe different types of attitude towards the issue of ‘caste based reservation’ in India. Those who are covered under the reservation usually support such practice while those who are deprived of the benefits of reservation are likely to oppose it.
In the same way, the attitude of a tax officer and taxpayer is different because each of them view taxation from a different point of view. A taxpayer interprets the law in a way that his tax liability is minimum while a tax officer interpret the same law to maximise the tax revenue. Similarly, the attitude of a rich man and a poor man towards taxation and public welfare schemes is also different as they choose their attitude based on their self-interest.
People need to maintain an organised, meaningful and stable view of the world. They choose attitudes that can provide them a meaningful and structured environment. An attitude achieves this goal by making things fit together and make sense of them.
For example, if we are good people who are doing ethical things and living a life of honesty and integrity, we would like to believe that good things happen to good people. We may believe that God wants people to be good and that He helps all good people. If we don’t believe in the benefits of doing ethical things, it would be difficult to remain ethical for long. However, a dishonest person develops a different world view and uses examples of dishonest yet successful people because that suits him most. He may look for different ideals and different philosophies to justify his behaviour.
Our attitudes thus supply us with standards of evaluation using which we can bring order and clarity to the complexities of human life.
This function involves psychoanalytic principles where people use defence mechanisms to protect themselves from any kind of psychological harm. We are more likely to use the ego-defensive function when we suffer a loss or misfortune. We often use the following mechanisms to defend our ego.
Let us describe these mechanisms in more details now.
Sometimes people refuse to see manifest reality by simply closing their eyes to the harsh truth as it helps them to deny the harsh reality and seek refuge in illusions. The use of these mechanisms is a symptom of mental maladjustments. For example, a supporter of a leader refuses to acknowledge the negative side, or bad actions of the leader to maintain the ideal image of the leader in his eyes.
Sometimes an individual who suffers a traumatic experience in his life completely forgets about it by removing the incident from his conscious memory. These incidents are buried so deep that it is unknown to him even in his subconscious mind. Such an attitude often helps a person to live a better life since the mere memory of such an incident brings pain and scratches the emotional wound. By forgetting such incidents, he is able to avoid the pain caused by the incident.
Projection is a defence mechanism in which a person ascribes his own unacceptable qualities or feelings to other people. For example, if a person is corrupt, he often claims that everyone is corrupt. If you hate others, you can solve this problem by believing that they too hate you.
Rationalisation is often used as a form of self-deception by many people to tide over or hide their failures. It allows one to adjust to an unwelcome situation or outcome by falsely imagining it to their benefit. It is similar to claiming that grapes are sour, if you fail to get them. Some poor people rationalise their poverty by claiming that wealth is the root of all evil, or that poor people are good at heart and loved by God. Those who fail to achieve power often claim that power corrupts, increases responsibilities, causes destruction and creates hatred. Hence, they feel happy that they are not powerful.
It is common to meet people who fail to get a good job, like civil services, claim that there is corruption, political interference and transfer postings; and hence, they are lucky that they were not selected. Such type of rationalisation makes them feel better and live a happier life.
Displacement is the redirection of an impulse (usually aggression) onto a powerless substitute target. The target can be a person or an object that can serve as a symbolic substitute. For example, if someone is frustrated with his boss, who treats him badly, he may go home and kick the dog or beat up a family member to get rid of the frustration in office.
Sublimation is similar to displacement. However, here we displace our negative emotions into some positive acts instead of doing destructive activities. For example, some people channalise their negative emotions to create art or music. Some people play games or do brisk walking to put their negative emotions to positive use.
People often develop attitudes that serve to express their central values and their self-concept or self-image. These central values tend to establish their identity and gain social approval thereby showing who they are and what they stand for.
Some examples of such an attitude are:
• If I am an honest person, I must always criticise corruption and corrupt people. Such behaviour would create an image of honesty for me.
• If I am a hard-working person, I must criticise people for their casual and lazy behaviour. The more I do this, the better image I would have for a hard-working individual.
• If I am an efficient and smart government officer, I must criticise people who work hard but still fail to produce results. Such type of attitude would prove that I am quite smart.
Change of Attitude
The attitude of people is not rigid, but changes with new information and new experiences. Most people have negative attitude towards the world because of ignorance or incorrect information. When they acquire the right knowledge or direct experience of the person, thing or situation, their attitude may change.
When there is a discrepancy between our thoughts and behaviour, we can change our attitude by resolving the discrepancy between them.
Sometimes our attitude is transformed depending upon the attitude of our friends and colleagues. If they are positive thinkers, we too may become more positive in our outlook towards life.
The attitude of people changes when a new law is framed which prohibits certain activities and prescribes harsher punishments. For example, when more severe penalties are imposed for violation of traffic rules, more people follow the traffic rules.
The attitude of people also changes when they change their surroundings. When people from one country move within the country from a village to a city, their attitude undergoes a change as they try to adopt the new values to adjust with their surroundings.
Learning Theories of Attitude
Attitude is not accidental. We imbibe it from various sources consciously or unconsciously. It is, therefore, possible to change the attitude of people by exposing them to different situations and by conditioning their minds accordingly. There are three theories of attitude change in behavioural psychology. These are as follows:
1. Classical Conditioning
2. Operant/Instrumental Conditioning
3. Observational Learning
1. Classical Conditioning
During the 1890s, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov conducted an interesting experiment on a dog. The dog would naturally salivate when it smelled food (unconditioned stimulus). However, in this experiment, a bell was also rung when the food was fed to the dog. Soon the researcher found that the sound of bell had the same effect (conditioned stimulus) because the dog associated food with the ringing of the bell.
The psychologists have thus found that positive emotional reaction can be linked to a person, object or event by associating positive feelings with the target object. This is called classical conditioning.
Commercial advertisements create this conditioning by associating a product with film stars or other celebrities who are shown to be using a certain products and are happy with its result. Though, there may actually be no correlation between the product and the celebrities being happy with the product, but people tend to associate them with each other and start believing that the stars are happy with the advertised product.
2. Operant/Instrumental Conditioning
We all know the power of reward and punishment to condition the minds of people to do a desired task. If we praise or reward (positive reinforcement) a person for favourable events or outcomes, he is likely to do it repeatedly to get more praise. Similarly, if we remove, stop or avoid an unfavourable event (negative reinforcement) or outcome after the desired behaviour, people are motivated to perform that task to avoid pain.
In many institutes, the requirement of attendance in class is dispensed with if a student scores good grades (nine points or more). This motivates students to give more importance to studies to get better grades so that they don’t have to worry about attendance.
In the same way, if we punish people for their undesired behaviour, they are likely to avoid such behaviour to avoid punishment.
These principles are similar to the carrot and stick policies that are popular all over the world to condition the behaviour of employees or students. Some other examples of such conditioning are:
• Issuing appreciation certificates to good officers or employees
• Giving an award or promotion to top performers
• Giving chocolates to children for good behaviour
• Low increment or removing the person from job for poor performance
• Punishing children for bad behaviour
3. Observational Learning
We learn most of our attitudes from people whom we love and admire. Our parents, elders, teachers, leaders and even film personalities often inspire us and we develop a desirable attitude following their behaviour. Most people form an attitude by observing people around them.
Hence, the best way to change the attitude of people around us is to start by changing our own behaviour. When we inspire people through our actions, they follow our behaviour even without saying a word. Mahatma Gandhi, therefore, advised people, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. When you change, the world changes around you.
Mahatma Gandhi Inspires People for Cleaning Toilets
During Gandhiji’s second trip to India from South Africa, he attended the Congress session in Calcutta to plead the cause of the ill-treated Indians in South Africa. The sanitary condition of the Congress camp was horrible. Some delegates used the veranda in front of their room as latrines, others did not object to it. Gandhi reacted immediately to this situation.
When he spoke to the volunteers, they said; ‘This is not our job, this is a sweeper’s job.’ Gandhi asked for a broom and cleaned the filth. He was then dressed in western clothes. The volunteers were astonished but none came forward to assist him.
Years later, when Gandhi became the guiding star of the Indian National Congress, volunteers formed a bhangi (sweeper) squad in the Congress camps where for once the Brahmins worked as bhangis. Two thousand teachers and students were specially trained for doing the scavenging at the Haripura Congress.
Whenever Gandhi got an opportunity to do a little bit of cleaning work, he felt happy. To him the test of people’s standard of cleanliness was the condition of their latrines. He described himself as a bhangi and said he would be content if he could die as a sweeper. He even asked orthodox Hindus to make him suffer social boycott along with the untouchables.
Gandhi thus changed the attitude of people by inspiring them with his own conduct and behaviour.