According to Hogg and Vaughan (2005) the ‘Attitudes do not influence behaviour; behaviour influences attitude’ debate has been ongoing in social psychology for decades now. Eysenck (2004) proposed that, in psychology, this relationship has been researched in order to better understand what influences people’s actions and to try to find out more of how the human brain works. Hogg and Vaughan (2005) further suggest that attitude represents an individual’s like or dislike for something or somebody and the way they behave towards an event or others. Attitudes can be positive, negative or neutral views (Crisp and Turner, 2007). Baron, Byrne and Branscombe (2005) suggest people can also be unaware towards a certain situation or someone, meaning that they automatically have a positive and or negative bias towards the ‘attitude’ in question and it can also describe the individual’s emotional approach to another individual or situation in general. The humanistic approach, type of attitude is value-expression and the function served by attitude helps the person express important aspects of the self-concept (Franzoi, 1996).
Smith and Mackie (2000) suggest attitudes and behaviours must be measured at the same level of specificity. For example, a person’s attitude toward their general health will not predict their propensity to jog. Specific attitudes will predict specific behaviours. Smith and Mackie (2000) further suggest certain people’s attitudes are more consistent with their behaviour han others. For example, a high self-monitor changes their behaviour depending on the situation. A low self-monitor behaves the same way across situations and the behaviour of low self-monitors is consistent with their expressed attitudes. Whether attitudes predict behaviour may depend on context. Norms can be strong in that it is unlikely that overt behaviour will reflect private attitudes. For example, people who dislike their jobs will still go to work because of normative and financial incentives. Attitudes toward work predict attendance when obligation to attend is removed (Hogg and Vaughan, 2005).
This essay will answer the title in three sections. Firstly, by discussing the evidence to support the ‘attitude affects behaviour’ side of the debate. Secondly, discussing the evidence to support the ‘behaviour affects attitude’ side. In both arguments, criticisms of the evidence will be discussed. Then, the essay will end with the conclusion and recommendation for further research in the attitude-behaviour debate.
Crisp and Turner (2007) suggest there is evidence to suggest that attitude can affect behaviour such as Ajzen and Fishbein’s (1977) theory of Reasoned Belief and Fazio’s (1981) (cited in Fazio, Powell and Williams 1989) Attitude-to-Behaviour Process Model. Crisp and Turner (2007) further suggested that these two models were the foundation of the Attitude-Behaviour relationships in past research. In Ajzen and Fishbein’s (1980) theory of Reasoned Action, ‘intention’, was regarded as the main purpose of this theory with two main predictors, which were the attitude toward the behaviour and the ‘subjective norms’. The attitude toward the behaviour was what the person’s previous attitude toward doing that behaviour was in the past. This suggested that people think about their decisions and the possible outcomes before making a decision. The second main predictor were the ‘subjective norms’ which were derived from the person’s belief that certain individuals or cohorts think they should or should not perform the behaviour and their motivation compels them to abide by this. The person then evaluates what the outside influencers are and whether or not these influencers are important: , these factors play an important role in the ‘subjective norms’. Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) further proposed that it was rare for people to make important life decisions hastily without consulting some sort of resource to help them feel that they have made the best decision for themselves and that they may want to try and lower the post-decision dissonance. For example, in decisions like buying one’s first home, ‘subjective norms’ influence people’s intentions.
In contrast to Ajzen and Fishbein’s (1980) theory of Reasoned Action model, Fazio, Powell and Williams (1989set forth the Attitude-to-Behaviour Process Model, which proposed that a person’s attitude could predict their behaviour even when they are not actively thinking about the attitude. Ajzen (2005) suggests in this model that how the person views the event is the main predictor of attitude, which eventually would lead to a course of action, which means how the person interprets the event. Ajzen (2005) further suggested that the attitude in this case was in conjunction to past memory and past experiences, which resulted in an evaluation of the decision at the end. Fazio, Powell and Williams (1989) further suggested that the Attitude-to-Behaviour Process Model depended on how much of the person’s attitude is formed from past memory or past experiences. This decision could have been thoroughly thought out or could have been an automatic response. Smith and Mackie (2000) felt that this theory suggested if the attitude is not derived directly from memory or past experiences then external or environmental cues are used to help form the attitude to make the decision. Therefore, the stronger the relationship between memory and perception of the entity the stronger the attitude will be towards the decision in the end.
Smith and Mackie (2000) went on to say that the models both suggested that attitude is the main predictor of behaviour but the only difference is that they enter in from different means. The Theory of Reasoned Action proposed that individuals are realistically thinking about all their actions and the possible outcomes, and intention is the major part of their attitude formation, while the Attitude-to-Behaviour Process Model proposed that individuals’ attitudes are subjective to the specific situation or events that are surrounding their decision, which will result in their attitude formation about the decision and behaviour. This model supported the idea of routine decisions versus thinking decisions by the Theory of Reasoned Action (Crisp and Turner, 2007).
In the attempt to link attitude to behaviour, Bohner and Wanke (2002) suggested the attitude-behaviour model was based upon the assumption that a change in attitudes is followed by a change in behaviour. Fazio (1990) suggested the MODE-model as an integrative framework for the multiple processes by which attitudes guide behaviour. The model assumed that if people are highly motivated to make a correct decision and are able to use the relevant available information, then they are likely to engage in an intentional and thoughtful process in deciding how to behave (the Theory of Reasoned Action) (Fazio 1990). The model further proposed readily available attitudes are less exposed to change as a function of new information than less accessible attitudes.
Examining attitudes specific to the behaviour, Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1989) study of whether or not to help Chinese people concluded that there was not a close correspondence between words and actions in that attitude did not predict behaviour. However, on the other hand Glasman and Albarracin’s (2006) meta-analysis of seven hundred studies on the attitude-behaviour relationship all proposed that specific, relevant attitudes do predict behaviour. For example, for attitudes toward condom use, prediction of behaviour from intention was found to become significantly less accurate in time (Albarracin et al. (2001), cited in Albarracin, Johnson and Zanna (2005)). Shultz and Oskamp’s (1996) study towards students’ attitudes toward recycling, measured low and high effort. The study concluded that studies conducted in high-effort circumstances, which means the students having to go and drop off recycling items generally found a stronger relationship with attitudes and behaviour than the studies that were conducted in low-effort conditions, such as a convenient recycling program, which means that recycled items were collected from outside the participants’ homes. Shultz and Oskamp (1996) concluded that across all three studies of recycling, the results consistently supported recent theoretical findings that effort is a strong moderator of the attitude-behaviour relationship. Olson and Zanna (1993); Ajzen and Timko (1986); and Courneya (1995) all proposed that in order to change habits through persuasion, individuals needed to alter their attitudes toward specific practices. They then concluded by suggesting that there are two conditions under which attitudes would predict behaviour which are, when people minimize other influences on their attitude statements and behaviour and when the attitude is specifically relevant to the observed behaviour. Olson and Zanna (1993); Ajzen and Timko (1986); and Courneya (1995) further proposed a third condition, that attitude predicted behaviour better when it was potent. This means when individuals act automatically, in general, people’s attitudes often lie dormant and they act out familiar roles, without reflecting on what they are doing, for instance, when someone responds to a passer-by in the hallway with an automatic “Hi.” (Smith and Mackie 2000).
According to Hogg and Vaughan (2005) there is research that suggests that the attitude-behaviour relationship was not very strong while other studies suggest there was a strong relationship between attitude and behaviour. Hogg and Vaughan (2005) further suggest the studies that questioned this came up with many of the same conclusions concerning the weakness of this relationship. An example of a study involving attitudes resulting in behaviour is LaPiere’s (1934), which measured motel and restaurant clerks’ attitudes towards Chinese people and if they would serve them, but this study showed a large amount of measurement error. LaPiere’s (1934) study concluded that all the attitudes were inconsistent with the actions in that attitude affects behaviour. In addition, in much of the early research on this topic, researchers tried to hypothesise specific behaviours and actions by using general attitudes (Bohner and Wanke 2002). In a more recent study, Godin and Kok (1996) questioned the validity of both Fazio’s (1980) and Ajzen and Fishbein’s (1989) models by suggesting that they did not take into account people who do not feel as though they have any control over their own attitudes or behaviours. Godin and Kok (1996) opined that, if this is true, then how can these models apply to people who have a obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or to people with attention deficiency disorder.
Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) admitted to inconsistency in the research, in that their research studied single acts and not behavioural trends. Although their study suggested that single acts were easier to research, behavioural trends were a stronger predictor of attitude and could be more accurate. They further suggested a resulting behaviour in most cases was a series of attitudes not just one, which is why studying a single act could have altered the perception of how strong the attitude-to-behaviour relationship really was. However, Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) felt that studying specific attitudes by using general research questions and vice versa cannot work because it would always show an inconsistency in attitude-behaviour relationships (Fazio, Powell and Williams 1989). In another study, Gerard (1994) (cited in Bagozzi and Kimmel, 1995) concluded that the evidence did not show that changing attitudes changes behaviour – the horse and cart scenario.
While older theories argued that attitudes predict behaviours, recent research suggests that the reverse direction is more accurate in that behaviour shapes attitudes. Several examples of this relationship have been studied, including the Cognitive Dissonance Theory proposed by Festinger (1964) (cited in Crisp. & Turner (2007). Cognitive dissonance is a negative psychological tension, which occurs when individuals hold two cognitions such that the opposite of one cognition follows from the other cognition, for instance, ‘I’m out in the rain and I’m not getting wet’, or ‘I am smoking and it’s bad for my health’ (Festinger, 1970). Festinger’s theory suggested that people’s actions predict their attitudes.
According to Hogg and Vaughan (2005), dissonance-produced arousal proposes that behaviour affects attitudes. Festinger (1970) proposed that individuals behaving inconsistently with their attitudes is enough to provoke some attitude change. In fact, in studies with people suffering amnesia and thus unable to explicitly remember their behaviour, attitudes still changed following behaviour (Lieberman et al.,2001). According to Crisp and Turner (2007), nearly five decades after Festinger first proposed his theory, social psychologists continue to study and debate alternative views of what causes dissonance. Zanna and Cooper’s (1974) results demonstrate that the feeling aroused is a central part of the experience of cognitive dissonance and that people must attribute this arousal to their own actions before they engage in self-justifying attitude change. There is a reason why “volunteering” to say or do undesirable things is arousing, suggests Claude Steele (1988). Cooper (2007) suggested dissonance assumes that when attitudes are weak to begin with, people use their behaviour and its circumstances as a clue to those attitudes.
Cooper (2007) suggested that one theory is that people’s attitudes change because they are motivated to maintain consistency among their cognitions, as implied by Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance theory. The theory is simple, but there are a large range of applications. It assumes individuals feel tension (dissonance) when two simultaneously accessible thoughts or beliefs (cognitions) are psychologically inconsistent. For instance, when individuals decide to say or do something although having contradicting feelings about it. Festinger (1957) argued that to reduce this unpleasant arousal, people often adjust their thinking And that dissonance theory pertains mostly to discrepancies between behaviour and attitudes. Individuals are aware of behaviour and attitude. However, Festinger (1957) proposed that, if people sense some inconsistency, perhaps some hypocrisy, they may feel pressure for change. For instance, Eiser et al. (1979) (cited in World Health Organisation (2008)) suggested that in a British survey in 2000, half of cigarette smokers disagreed with the near consensus among non-smokers that smoking is dangerous for their health and the perception of risk among those who have quit declines after relapsing.
According to Festinger & Carlsmith (1959) (cited in Meyers, 1999), insufficient justification cognitive dissonance tension is where one is simultaneously aware of two inconsistent cognitions. For example, dissonance may occur when an individual realized that they have, with little justification, acted contrary to their attitudes or made a decision favouring one alternative despite reasons favouring another. Contrary to the notion that big rewards produce big effects, Festinger and Carlsmith’s (1959) studies concluded that the attitudes-follow-behaviour effect was strongest when people felt some choice and when their action had known consequences. The over justification effect occurs when someone offers an unnecessary reward in an obvious effort to control behaviour. For instance, individuals being complimented for doing a good job can encourage them to be more competent and successful, and this can increase their intrinsic motivation. Aronson and Mills (1959) proposed that when people work hard to achieve a goal, this is effort-justification. Alternative explanations of Aronson & Mills’ (1959) effort justification ideas were suggested by Gerard and Mathewson (1966) (cited in Albarracin, Johnson and Zanna (2005)) with practical applications of dissonance theory, such as the condom study and in Cooper and Axsom’s (1982) (cited in cited in Albarracin, Johnson and Zanna (2005)) study on weight loss.
Crisp and Turner (2007) suggest that another alternative to the dissonance theory was proposed by Bem (1965) in the self-perception theory, which goes a step further. Contrary to the notion that rewards always increase motivation, it suggests that unnecessary rewards sometimes have a hidden cost. Rewarding people for doing what they already enjoy may lead them to attribute their doing it to the reward, thus undermining their self-perception that they do it because they like it. Bem (1972) put forward the self-perception theory, which proposed attitude change. Laird (2007) proposed that this theory suggested that individuals developed their attitudes by observing the way they behave and then they make a decision as to what attitudes must have caused those behaviours. Bem (1972) held that the self-perception theory is different from cognitive dissonance in that it does not suggest that individuals experience a negative drive state. Instead, it suggests individuals conclude their attitudes from their own behaviour in the same way that someone from the environment may observe them to be. Laird (2007) suggested that self-perception theory is a different case of attribution theory. Although dissonance theory has inspired much research, an even simpler theory explains its phenomena. Further to this Bem (1972) suggested that people’s self-perception also takes on environmental factors.
In conclusion, Zanna et al. (1981) (cited in Zanna 1990) proposed that people who take a few moments to review their past behaviour express attitudes that better predict their future behaviour. Zanna et al. (1981) further suggested that people’s attitudes guide their behaviour if they think about them and self-conscious people usually are in touch with their attitudes (Miller and Grush, 1986). This suggested another way to induce people to focus on their inner convictions, encouraging people to be more self-conscious, perhaps by having them act in front of a mirror (Carver & Scheier, 1981). Making people self-aware in this way promotes consistency between words and deeds (Gibbons, 1978; Froming et al., 1982) (cited in Chapman and Carrigan (1993). An extensive series of experiments by Fazio and Zanna (1981) suggest that when attitudes arise from experience, they are far more likely to endure and to guide actions.
According to Smith and Mackie (2000), in the past social psychologists suggested that to know people’s attitudes is to predict their actions. However, Festinger’s (1964) theory has been an important contributor to social psychology according to Meyers (1999). Gerard’s (1994) (cited in Bagozzi and Kimmel, 1995) study concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that changing attitudes changes behaviour. Festinger (1964) believed the attitude-behaviour relationship works the other way around, with people’s behaviour as the horse and their attitudes as the cart. As Langer and Abelson (1972) suggested, people are trained and are very good at finding reasons for what they do, but not very good at doing what they find reasons for doing.
According to Smith, Terry and Hogg (2006), the self-presentation theory suggests that people who monitor their own behaviour, in turn create a good impression. The evidence discussed in this essay suggests that people do adjust their attitude statements out of concern for what other people will think. However, it also shows that some genuine attitude change occurs. Smith, Terry and Hogg (2006) further found that some theories propose that people’s actions trigger genuine attitude change. Cooper (2007) proposed the dissonance theory which suggests that attitudes change by assuming that the person feels tension after acting contrary to their attitudes or making a difficult decision. To reduce this arousal, they internally justify their behaviour, as the less external justification people have for an undesirable action, the more they feel responsible for it, and thus the more dissonance arises and the more attitudes change. Bem (1972) proposed the self-perception theory assumes that when people’s attitudes are weak, they observe their behaviour and its circumstances and infer their attitudes. Smith, Terry and Hogg (2006) suggest that one implication of the self-perception theory is the over-justification effect. Rewarding people to do what they like doing anyway can turn their pleasure into dislike if the reward leads them to attribute their behaviour to the reward.
According to Armitage and Christian (2003), the attitude-behaviour relationship is important in society hence the ongoing debate. Studies support both sides of the debate but in some the relationship is strong and in some cases the relationship is weak. It eventually comes down to the type of study, the chosen population of participants, and the methodological factors, which will then determine the significance of the results. Armitage and Christian (2003) further suggested that there is no decisive answer to these questions as of yet: does attitude lead to behaviour? Or does behaviour lead to attitude?. However, through the studies presented in this essay it is clear that certain variables can strengthen the accuracy of the attitude-to-behaviour relationships. Neither the Theory of Reasoned Action nor the Attitude-to-Behaviour Process Model is 100 per cent accurate, but both addressed the issues of what drives a person’s behaviour so that more research can be done in this field in the future.
As for recommendations for further research, according to Smith, Terry and Hogg (2006) the relationship between attitude and behaviour is weak at present. However, it is possible to strengthen this link if attitude is combined with social pressure, for instance. Fazio and Zanna (1981) proposed that instead of trying to find out whether there is a relationship between attitudes and behaviour, researchers should consider finding out under what conditions do what kinds of attitudes of what kinds of individuals predict what kinds of behaviour and try to determine what factors are involved. Several studies concluded that attitudes directly affect behaviour. However, a number of factors have arisen that may help determine the degree to which an attitude influences a person’s behaviour, including situational qualities, personal qualities, and the attitude itself (Smith and Mackie, 2000).
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