The Psychology of Attitudes and Attitude Change

Gregory R. Maio and Geoffrey Haddock, 2009
Read August 2010

This book provides a wealth of information, theories, and studies focusing on attitudes, attitude change, and behavior. I have found it extremely relevant and helpful for my thesis project. The authors present concepts from cognitive psychology in a non-threatening, easy-to-understand manner, and link them to real life examples. They cover a range of theories, both historical and more recent.

Chapter 3, “The Influence of Attitudes on Information Processing and Behavior,” is quite relevant to my thesis project. It shows that attitudes influence the information that we pay attention to, and even how well we remember information. For example, we tend to remember information that is consistent with our beliefs. This helps us to avoid cognitive dissonance—the negative feelings that result when we act in a way inconsistent with our beliefs, or when we encounter evidence that contradicts our beliefs. I have encountered the concept of cognitive dissonance in my course on Behavioral Decision Making as well, and am beginning to realize its power. This is clearly important to keep in mind as I am creating and testing informational materials, particularly if the messages contradict the audience’s beliefs.

Chapter 4, “How Do Attitudes Influence Behavior?” shows that the link between attitudes and behavior is not a straight path. The authors introduce Fishbein and Ajzen’s seminal Theory of Planned Behavior (69), a model which depicts behavior as influenced directly by a behavioral intention. The intention is influenced by a person’s attitude towards the behavior, subjective norms (that is, beliefs about how other people view the behavior), and perceived behavioral control. Thus, attitudes influence behavior indirectly, along with other factors, such as norms and perceived control. Through this chapter, I’ve realized just how complex behavior change really is. It is one thing to introduce new information to people that causes them to willingly change their attitude; it is another thing for an individual to translate a newly-held attitude into a new behavior. One message will most likely not lead to behavior change, and almost certainly not to lasting change.

One encouraging example in the book, however, was a method of translating intentions into behavior. That is, a way to increase the chances of a person performing a behavior if they already intend to do it. This method, shown by numerous studies to work, is to create an “implementation intention.” The implementation intention is a method used to “focus an individual on specifying where, when, and how a behavior will be enacted”—for example, a person says, “when I encounter situation A, I will perform behavior B” (74). In a way, the implementation intention seems similar to B.J. Fogg’s Behavior Model (www.behaviormodel.org), in which he states that in order for a behavior to happen, a person be motivated and have the necessary ability, and finally must encounter a trigger that leads them to take action. The implementation intention takes the place of the trigger, but unlike the trigger, it is determined by the individual, not the designer.

Additionally, the authors provide ways to increase the likelihood that someone will pay attention to a message (by increasing its personal relevance, for example). Finally, this book was a great dovetail to Don Norman’s writings, in which he addresses design from a cognitive psychology perspective.

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