Social Psychology (Attitude): Introduction, Features, Formation and Problem!
- Introduction to Social Attitude
- Distinguish Features of Attitude
- Attitude Formation and Change
- Problem of Attitude Change
- Group Discussion and Group Decision
1. Introduction to Social Attitude:
An attitude denotes an adjustment of the individual towards some selected’ person, group or institution. In forming an attitude towards some aspect of the environment an individual shows a readiness to respond. In reaction-time experiments, it has been found that there are differences in reaction-time depending upon the attitude taken by the individual. It is conceived as a state of preparation for discriminating among stimuli (sensorial attitude) or as a state of preparation for reacting as quickly as possible upon the occurrence of a definite stimulus (motor-attitude).
Thus an attitude results in a state of preparation or a state of readiness to respond in a particular manner under particular circumstances. An attitude determines a certain expectation; if the events are in line with these expectations then there is satisfaction. But if the events are contrary to the attitude then there will be dissatisfaction.
Attitudes could be formed to social as well as non-social aspects of the environment. We are now concerned only with social attitudes, that is, attitudes formed in relation to social stimulus situations. Thus social attitudes may be formed towards persons or groups of persons towards the products of human interaction.
People in different cultures form definite attitudes towards what is desirable and what is undesirable. In other words social attitudes involve values. There is a readiness to do or not to do certain things. For example, people in different cultures have definite attitudes about what is desirable to eat and at what time food should be taken. Thus the attitude sets a person for or against persons, groups, things, and institutions.
Thus attitudes define what is to be preferred, expected and desired and what is desirable and what should be avoided. Thus, in terms of its consequence, an attitude is goal-directed. Attitudes may be referred to as sociogenic motives. Attitudes arise out of the socialization of an individual in a group. It must be emphasised that we cannot observe attitudes. Social attitudes can only be inferred from the speech and behaviour of individuals. Some social psychologists refer to attitudes as “conforming behaviour”.
Similarly, if we stand near a temple and observe the reaction of the people as they pass the temple on the street, we will find that a very large number of Hindus will stop for a second and offer prayer and a very small number will just pass by. Such conformity to social norms is based on the development of social attitudes.
An attitude, which determines the characteristic, or a consistent, mode of behaviour in relation to a particular aspect of the environment is an internal factor. What are the criteria, which differentiate attitudes as internal factors from other internal factors? Sherif has given a few criteria, which help not only to differentiate attitudes as internal factors from other internal factors, but also to learn about the characteristics of the attitudes themselves.
According to Sherif the following are the distinguishing features of attitudes:
1. Attitudes are not Innate:
They are formed or learnt by the individual as he grows up in the group. Consequently, attitudes are not biogenic though they are based on the biogenic motives, for e.g., craving for food is biogenic but strong preference for rice or for wheat, is an attitude that is formed because of the family in which one is brought up: If the children in the south, and in other predominantly rice-eating parts of India, have to change their attitudes towards wheat, then wheat should be introduced right from childhood.
But it will be accepted by the children only if the mother and father also take it as a part of the food. Thus unless the parents change their attitudes towards food, children cannot change their attitudes.
2. Attitudes involve Individuals as well as Groups:
An individual may develop an attitude of hostility towards another individual or he may look upon the whole group to which the other individual belongs as hateful. A gang of boys may develop hatred towards a rival gang. They may consider not only that a particular individual in the rival gang is treacherous, but that all the individuals in that gang are treacherous. Fundamentalists of one religion hate the people of other religion.
To a capitalist century not only the communist countries like Russia and China are hateful, but even the non-aligned countries are undesirable. Thus our social attitudes may encompass not only individuals but also groups, small as well as vast. There is a process of generalisation and consequently all the out-groups are looked upon as aggressive, dishonest and so on.
3. Attitudes are more or Less Lasting:
They are enduring. But since attitudes are formed they are subject to change. They are not immutable. Because we conform to attitudes we can also change the attitudes provided there are the proper conditions. Our previous illustration gives us an insight about the changing of attitudes.
4. Attitudes have Motivational-Affective Properties:
As we know, attitudes are learnt. How can we then distinguish attitudes from other learnt items? According to Sherif attitudes have the motivational-affective properties. Unlike other learnt items, an attitude is goal-directed in a positive or negative way.
5. Attitudes Imply a Subject-Object Relationship:
Attitudes are always formed in relation to certain persons, groups, objects of institutions. So attitudes are not just internal factors without any relationship with the external factors. On the other hand, they can arise only in relation to some aspect of the environment.
6. Attitudes are shared by the Members of a Group:
All the above criteria apply to attitudes, which are social as well as non-social. The distinguishing features of the social attitudes are- (a) that they are formed in relation to social situations and (b) that they are shared by the members of the group. That social attitudes are more or less common among the members of a group, with the exception of a few members who are deviant, is an essential feature. It is this that leads to conforming behaviour of the large majority of the members of a group and the deviation only by a small minority. The norms and values of a group are internalised through the formation of attitudes.
There is another peculiar feature in the learning of attitudes as compared with the other learnt items from an individual’s behaviour. We find that the new members of the group form attitudes through short-cut verbal dicta like proverbs and aphorisms, Verbal formulae like proverbs induce certain attitudes by being accepted. The elder or the senior members of a family present these value judgments with an air of finality and the younger and junior members of a group accept them who are in the process of becoming members.
Thus social attitudes are formed, not on the basis of individual and personal experiences, as much as through the acceptance of the verbal formulae. Even when the personal experience contradicts the prevailing social attitude, the chances are that the individual will tend to look upon the personal experience as an exception rather than as the truth.
In a general way, it may be stated that an attitude is a readiness to respond to certain situations, persons, objects or ideas in a consistent manner. This kind of readiness is the result of learning and it becomes a habitual mode of response. Thus an attitude implies on the one hand a well-defined object of reference and on the other a variation in the degree or strength of a person s attitude from extremely positive to extremely negative.
It is now generally accepted that a social attitude determines the characteristic and consistent mode of behaviour. Further there is a selective mode of response towards the relevant stimuli from the environment on the basis of the attitude. We can give a few experiments, which have been conducted to study these problems. Marks conducted an experiment to study the influence of attitudes on the, judgment of skin colour in America. He obtained the ratings regarding skin-colour and also ratings regarding attractiveness from four groups of Negro students.
The sociologist Johnson has observed a preference for light brown skin colour among the Negro youth. Marks found that there was a tendency to displace the ratings of subjects considered attractive in the direction of the preferred skin colour. It was further found that the rating of a person’s skin colour served as an anchorage for judgment. The persons who were lighter in skin colour than the rater were judged as light and those darker than the rater were judged as ‘dark’. Thus a person’s rating of himself influenced how he rated the skin colour of the other people.
Further, those who are looked upon as attractive were given lighter rating and those who were looked upon as unattractive were given a darker rating. In another study, Asch obtained ratings for two political figures, Roosevelt and Hitler, with respect to ‘intellectual power’ and ‘physical attractiveness’. It was found that the large majority of American students looked upon Roosevelt as having the highest ranking and Hitler as having the lowest ranking with respect to intellectual power and physical attractiveness. This study confirms the ordinary experience we have with respect to our judgments about the attractiveness of the parents, the teachers, and other leaders in society whom we love and like, and the opposite with respect to those whom we dislike or hate.
Our attitudes influence our judgment regarding the behaviour and the desirability of the individual around us. If we like people, we overlook their deficiencies and defects but if we dislike people, we tend exaggerate their defects. “This is why the Bhagavad-Gita bids us to give up Raaga and Dvesha when we are dealing with the other people. It is our likes and dislikes that lead us to prejudice.
Probably if the same study of Asch referred to above had been conducted among the German students at that time the results would have been quite the reverse. Postman and his associates gave the Allport- Vernon test of values and the presented 36 words representing the six values included in the test in a tachistoscope. The words were exposed for a very short time and they gradually increased the exposure till each word was recognized.
It was found that the greater the value of a word for the subject the shorter the time needed to recognize it. Murphy chose two groups of students who had strong and opposite views on a political issue. The members of each group were presented with two communications from opposing points of view through loudspeakers at the same time.
It was found that the individuals favouring one view heard the relevant communication as the figure and the other as the background, while the control subjects were almost equally divided in hearing one or the other communication as figure.
Reference may also be made to the study of Proshansky who devised a projective method for the study of attitudes. He gave pictures of social conflict situation to two extreme groups who had strong prolabour or anti-labour attitudes. He asked them to describe the pictures. He found that the individuals with pro- labour attitudes stressed that the government was callous and was not providing proper housing conditions for the poor people. On the other hand the individuals with anti- labour attitudes described the pictures as depicting sloppy people who seem to enjoy dwelling in slums. Finally, reference may be made to an interesting study by Kubany.
3. Attitude Formation and Change:
In the recent years there has been a widespread interest in actively changing the attitudes of people within the country and towards people in other countries. Groups within the country, as well as the government, are engaged in changing the attitudes of people towards the various problems. In the United States, during the 1930s Roosevelt brought about a big change in the attitude of people towards workers as well as farmers because of the measures he took to counteract the disastrous economic consequences of ‘depression’.
Similarly, the Labour Party of Great Britain brought about vast changes among the people towards the problems of the working classes. In India, Gandhiji undertook the enormous task of changing the attitudes of the millions of people who were either apathetic or actually frightened of the British suzerainty. He adopted several techniques to make the Indians develop an attitude favourable to ‘swaraj’ and democracy and against the foreign rule.
At the same time, he tried to change the attitude of the British so that they became favourable to end colonialism and unfavourable to the use of violence against unarmed Satyagrahis. Further, he tried to change the attitude of the Hindus so that it became favourable towards Muslims, Harijans and other minority groups. Similarly, he tried to change the attitude of Muslims so that it became favourable to Hindus. It is needless to list all the various changes, which Gandhiji brought about in the political, social, economic, religious, educational, and other fields.
The governments in every country of the world are actively engaged in changing attitudes of people. For example, all the highly developed countries like United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia and other countries are now feeling it their duty to help the undeveloped countries of Asia, Africa and South-America, so that these countries can become economically prosperous.
This is something absolutely new in the history of man. From plunder, conquest and colonialism, there is this change towards helping the weak and undeveloped countries to become self-reliant and economically prosperous.
In India, for example, many attempts are being made to change the attitude of the farmers and peasants so that they take up to new methods of agriculture, chemical manures, cattle breeding, cooperative societies etc.
Similarly attempts are being made to change the attitude of the industrialists so that they work, not only for their own profit, but also for the wellbeing and economic prosperity of the country as a whole. Similarly attitudes of the businessmen are being changed so that they do not make a profit at the cost of the helpless customers.
This accelerated rate of social change in our times is due to several changes in political, economic and technological fields. Politically it is now realised that colonialism is outmoded and that each country has the right to have a government of its own. In the economic field it is accepted that m every country the poorest and the under-privileged groups must have the means to live in comfort.
Consequently, in every country, attempts are being made to raise the standard of life so that no family is without resources for decent living conditions. The great advances made in technology have now brought the whole world very close so that with the radio, we know what is happening at the ends of the world within a few minutes, and in the jet plane we can travel to any part of the world within a few hours.
All these developments in thought as well as in technology have forced the pace of change in every part of the world. Consequently, in every country, attempts are being made to change the outlook of the people so that they can have faith in themselves, work hard, and change their living conditions, so that the disparity in standards of life from group to group within a country or between countries is reduced.
As we already know, we can only infer attitudes on the basis of the readiness of the people to respond positively or negatively towards certain situations or areas. Further, attitude formation brings about a consistent and characteristic mode of reaction to particular situation. Consequently, attitude change means a change in the stand of the individual regarding a given issue or problem.
It may be asked, how we can find out whether a person’s attitude with respect to some issue has changed. We can measure the change of attitude by the same methods as we employed in our study of the existence of attitude. Attitude change implies that the issue towards which we were unfavourable produces now an attitude of being favourable towards it or vice versa.
It must be borne in mind that both the formation of attitude and change of attitude are not self-generating. Formation as-well-as change of attitude involves inter-personal relations. Consequently, there are both internal factors as well as external factors involved in the formation and change of attitudes. The internal factors refer to the motives of the individuals, the ideals of the individuals and so on.
5. Group Discussion and Group Decision:
During World War II, it was used to bring about a change in the food habits of people. Some varieties of food, though very nutritious, were not used by the Americans. Lewin conducted his experiments on six Red Cross groups of volunteers. Each group had from 13 to 17 individuals. “Lecture Method” was used for three groups and the “Discussion Method” was used for the other three groups.
In both cases, the time was the same, that is, 45 minutes. In the lecture method the nutritional value of the unused food was dilated upon. The volunteers were told how economical these foods were; they were exhorted to use these foods so that they could save the usual meat-cuts for the war-effort.
Cyclostyled copies of the recipes to prepare these unused foods were distributed. In the second set of groups, the discussion groups, the problem was introduced, the participants were allowed to discuss how housewives could be induced to participate in a programme of change of foods to help in war-effort and to improve general health.
The discussion turned to the several obstacles in the way of using these new foods and possible objections, which the family may have. After this the nutrition expert provided the recipes. At the end of the period a group decision was requested by show of hands. Sometime later the subjects were checked in order to find out how many of them had included the new food items as part of their meals.
It was found that while 3% of the lecture group included new items, 32% of the discussion group had acted in a similar way. Thus this experiment shows two significant facts. One is that the discussion method is far superior to the lecture method in inducing change in attitude and behaviour. Secondly, it shows clearly that it is not possible to change some individuals of a group by either of the techniques.
This experiment served as a model for other studies of attitude and behaviour change. One of the defects of the first experiment was that two different people were leaders in the two different groups. Consequently, in a second experiment, the same person was used as a leader of the lecture group as well as the discussion group. In this experiment, the subjects were housewives. In each session, there were 6 to 9 individuals in the group. Two check-ups were made, one after 2 weeks interval and another after 4 weeks interval.
Again, it was found that the discussion group was decisively more responsive. It was also found that the change endured longer for the discussion group. Leville and Butler confirmed these results in a study in an industrial plant. There were 29 supervisors in this factory. They tended to over-rate men in higher grade jobs and under-rate those in lower grade jobs. The problem was to alter their attitudes so that they did not have bias for or against the men whom they represented.
The supervisors were divided into three groups, one group was exposed to the lecture technique. They were informed how to correct the errors in rating. The second group was made to discuss the problem and arrive at a group decision. While the third group served as a control group.
It is clear from the above that active participation in a discussion group is much more effective to change attitude and behaviour than passive reception in a lecture group. “Then individuals actively participate they become personally involved in the issue. Further, group decision has a more binding influence on the individuals than any possible individual resolve. This as Sherif points out, “the crucial step in attempting to bring about an effective change in attitude is getting the individual personally involved (ego-involved) in the issue at hand. Getting the individual personally involved means arousing related ego-attitudes. Such personal involvement is enhanced in the give-and-take process of social interaction”.
Mere information or logical argument alone does not bring about a change in attitude because if the individual changes his attitude he may be breaking away from the security of cherished group ties.
As we have seen above, an individual derives his attitudes from the group norms even when an individual has to change his attitude. This implies that he is breaking away from the group norms in some way. This is not an easy thing to do. It is against socialization. On the other hand, when an individual discusses the problem in a group, then he can safely put forth his views in favour of change. When several individuals in the group point out the advantages in the change, then the group as a whole will change.
When the group changes, the group norm is changed. This will influence and reinforce the change in the individual. Further, as we have already seen, the new group norm becomes the individual’s autonomous norm. Consequently, as Sherif’s experimental work has made it clear, the individual will behave in a new way whether he is with the group or alone.
Later on, if the individual member deviates from the norm thus reached, he feels that he is violating his own values, because he is now incorporating these group values into his personality.