Attitude Formation

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Consider your thoughts on controversial topics such as dowry deaths, sexual harassment, prejudices, and superstitions. Ever pondered where these attitudes stem from? Were you born with them, or did life experiences shape your perspectives? This article delves into the fascinating world of attitude formation, exploring the various ways attitudes take shape within us.

Understanding the Dynamics of Attitude Formation: Exploring Origins and Influences

Defining Attitude Formation:

At its essence, Attitude Formation denotes the evolution from a neutral stance on an object to the development of a positive or negative outlook. It involves the journey we take from having no opinion on something to developing a positive or negative stance towards it.

Attitude formation is like a canvas coming to life, initially blank, then progressively splashed with vibrant hues and textured strokes, each representing an encounter, experience, or influence that shapes our opinions and biases until a distinct picture emerges — our stance on the world.

Could a simple glance or whispered conversation be enough to set in motion the machinery that shapes our attitudes, influencing how we choose to express them?

Social psychologists believe it's not just about personal experiences, but also about exposure, learning, social comparison, and even genetics. This complex mix shapes how we see the world and express ourselves.

  1. Mere Exposure

    Imagine encountering a brand logo repeatedly. Through this mere exposure, as Zajonc (1968) called it, our fondness for the object, usually positive, grows. This phenomenon extends across various stimuli, including foods, photographs, words, and advertising slogans. Contrary to the adage, familiarity often breeds not contempt, but comfort.

    Example 
    The enduring success of the Marlboro man advertising campaign, designed to associate filtered cigarettes with enhanced manhood, exemplifies how repeated exposure can solidify positive attitudes over time.

    Research underscores that the impact of mere exposure is most potent when occurring randomly and moderately over time. Excessive exposure diminishes the effect, emphasizing the nuanced relationship between familiarity and attitude formation.

  2. Attitude Formation by Learning

    Early theorists believed attitudes followed the same learning principles as other behaviors, suggesting that attitudes undergo automatic reinforcement through:

    • Classical Conditioning: Imagine associating a friend with bad news every time you meet them. Soon, you might find yourself dreading their company – even though they had nothing to do with the bad news! This is classical conditioning in action, shaping our attitudes without our conscious awareness.
    • Instrumental Conditioning: We learn to behave and believe in ways that bring rewards and avoid punishments. Children pick up on parental approval and disapproval, shaping their attitudes and behaviors accordingly.
    • Observational Learning: We don't just learn from direct experiences; we observe and absorb from those around us. Children often mimic their parents' behaviors and attitudes, even if not explicitly taught. Similarly, media and peer pressure can play significant roles in shaping our opinions.
  3. Attitude Formation by Social Comparison

    Social comparison serves as another mechanism for attitude formation, where individuals compare their views with others to validate their ideas. Alignment with the opinions of admired or respected individuals may lead to attitude changes, fostering a desire for similarity with those we esteem.

  4. The Genetic Factor in Attitude Formation

    While experiences play a crucial role, genetic predispositions might influence specific attitudes, like those on political or religious issues. These genetically influenced attitudes tend to be stronger, more resistant to change, and can even fuel dislike towards opposing viewpoints.

Key Takeaway

Understanding attitude formation empowers us to be more conscious of the influences shaping our opinions. By acknowledging the impact of mere exposure, conditioning, social comparison, and even genetics, we can approach our own and others' opinions with greater insight and empathy.

Remember, our attitudes are not static; they're constantly evolving under the influence of various forces. By understanding these processes, we can become more aware of how our own opinions are formed and how we can approach others with open minds and a willingness to learn from different perspectives.

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    • Adapted from: Social Psychology, Nature of Attitudes By Akbar Husain
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