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ATTITUDE AND ATTITUDE CHANGE, THEORIES OF. The term attitude may be defined as a learned predisposition ("set") to evaluate or react consistently in a particular manner, either positively or negatively, to certain persons, places, concept, things, or events. The concept of attitude was first introduced formally in the field of sociology by W. I. Thomas and F. Znaniecki in 1918 and has come to be a core concept in the field of social psychology. The tricomponent model of attitude states that attitudes contain three elements: affective/evaluative, cognitive/belief, and behavioral/action/conative. This model assumes both that there is a tendency within persons to maintain consistency among the three components and that, once formed, attitudes and the components become functional by preparing the individual for "inconflicted" action. Of the three components, the most prominent is the affective/evaluative (feeling) dimension, where most attempts at changing attitudes by persuasion are aimed at changing the evaluative component. Psychologists in this field assert that a comprehensive attitude theory should be able to explain data in the five areas of the communication process: the source (i.e., who initiates the communication, and how credible is the person or institution?), the message (i.e., what is the nature of the communication, and does it involve fear tactics?), the channel (i.e., how is the communication transmitted: face-to-face, television, newspaper, etc.?), the receiver (i.e., who is the target audience, and what is the level of receiver intelligence, emotion, and motivation?), and the destination (i.e., are the time frame, goal, and purpose for change of the communication?). Unfortunately, no single or unifying theory of attitudes is accepted by all scientists working in the field. There are over 30 distinct theoretical formulations described in textbooks on attitude theory. There are, however, common views among researchers concerning the notion that attitudes can be represented as an evaluative disposition on a continuum ranging from agreement to disagreement. Within these parameters, four separate classes of attitude theory may generally be identified: evaluative disposition/undifferentiated viewpoint (e.g., theories that employ principles of reinforcement and classical conditioning); set of beliefs (e.g., theories that suggest an averaging process across a person's cognitions or beliefs to get an overall evaluative disposition); set of motivational forces (e.g., theories that emphasize the more functional and enduring dispositions based on the person's values, needs, drives, and motives); and attitude nonexistence (e.g., theories that approach the concept of attitude as being a "social fiction" and advocate the examination of the processes of "self-perception"). The ideal attitude theory should contain, also, accounts of both the antecedents and the consequences of attitude formation, but most theoretical efforts are limited and have concentrated only on the antecedent conditions. The following sample of four systematic theories of attitude change, or persuasion theories, indicates the range of attitude theories acknowledged by most social psychologists today: cognitive-consistency theories, information-processing models/theories, functional theories, and perceptual theories. The cognitive-consistency theories encompass the "balance," "congruity," "dissonance," and "probabilistic" theories because they all assume that the person has an acquired or learned drive to maintain the optimal consistency among beliefs, and when inconsistency among beliefs (or between attitudes and overt behavior) occurs, the person will take action to avoid or reduce the resultant state of tension (cf., Osgood & Tannenbaum, 1955). Various concepts of the dissonance theory approach include "post-decisional dissonance" (when a person must choose between two attractive alternatives, and after the choice is made, the individual rationalizes the decision by upgrading the features of the chosen alternative and downgrading the rejected alternative), "selective exposure to information" (persons may search out information that supports their beliefs and avoid information that challenges them in order to reduce dissonance), and "forced compliance" (the seemingly paradoxical notion of dissonance theory that the less a person is paid to engage in a distasteful task, the more the task will be enjoyed). The information-processing models/theories suggest that successful attitude change through persuasion involves five sequential processes: attention (get the target audience's attention), comprehension (make clear the arguments and expected behaviors of the audience), yielding (assess target audience's consent), retention (ensure that the audience maintains its decision until action is required), and action (ensure that the audience is motivated to act in accordance with the new attitude). According to this approach, if this sequence of processes is interrupted at any point, the expected attitude change will not occur [cf., sleeper effect - first reported by the American psychologists Carl Hovland (1912-1961) and Walter Weiss (1925), refers to the tendency for the recipient of a persuasive message from a source of low credibility to show increased attitude change a short while after exposure to the message, either relative to recipients of the same message attributed to a source of high credibility, called the relative sleeper effect, or relative to the amount of attitude change occurring immediately after exposure to the message, called the absolute sleeper effect]. The functional theories assume that persons maintain a particular attitude because it has adaptive value and serves some personal basic need. The functional theories have examined the "authoritarian personality" and have been favored by the psychoanalytically oriented theorists, who attempt to explain negative attitudes and prejudices in terms of past patterns of childhood socialization. The perceptual theories argue that attitudes change in conjunction with persons' self-perceptions, their perceptions of the environment, and their own needs. This approach emphasizes the categories, frames of reference, and labels that individuals use to organize their social environment. Another current cognitive theoretical approach concerns the use of persuasion to change attitudes and is called the elaboration likelihood model, which states that persuasion may occur in either of two distinct ways (depending on how important or relevant the issues are to the persons who are the target of persuasion): via a "central" route (where an "important" message is carefully processed, and degree of attitude change depends on the quality of the arguments advanced), and via a "perceptual" route (where an "unimportant" message is only casually processed, and degree of attitude change depends on the presence of persuasion cues such as the expertise or status of the persuader; cf., heuristic, or rough-and-ready, theory of persuasion). The formulation of attitude theories in psychology is an active area involving practical applications and consequences. However, various unresolved issues remain that are not yet well understood by attitude theorists. Among these are the lack of knowledge concerning the sudden and intense emotional arousal that attitudes may produce, the manner in which attitudes can lead individuals to make great personal sacrifices for their ideals and loved ones, and the dynamics underlying the dramatic attitude reversals that may occur in a person's life (such as love at first sight, religious conversion, etc.). In psychology, the study of attitudes and the theories of attitude change reflect an overwhelming diversity of viewpoints and attitudes on the part of psychologists themselves about the relevant processes involved. See also ATTRIBUTION THEORY; BRAINWASHING TECHNIQUES AND THEORY; COMMUNICATION THEORY; CONFLICT, THEORIES OF; FES-TINGER'S COGNITIVE DISSONANCE THEORY; INGROUP BIAS THEORIES; MEANING, THEORY/ASSESSMENT OF; PERSUASION/INFLUENCE THEORIES; PREJUDICE, THEORIES OF; REASONED ACTION AND PLANNED BEHAVIOR THEORIES; REINFORCEMENT THEORY. REFERENCES

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