Attitudes: foundations and debates George Gaskell Flagship Series Department of Social Psychology Attitudes are alive and well • The importance of data on attitudes and opinions in many disciplines and in social research can hardly be denied. • The political opinion poll is the “ideal type”. Expressed preferences as a proxy for choices and action • Hence the reliance on attitude measurement in many domains – social and political research, marketing, organisational research, communications etc. • I’m currently involved in the design, analysis and reporting of surveys on the ‘Life Sciences’ and ‘Food risks’ in which the data collection amounts to €1.6m • Yet in social psychology there is a continuing debate about the status of the concept. Some of the heated debates in social psychology • Social representations cf Moscovici and Duveen and Jovchelovitch. • Attitudes as epi-phenomena: the discourse tradition ( Potter and Billig). • Neuro-cognitive psychological approaches – brain mechanisms and MRI scans. • ‘Fundamental’ research to establish reliable and valid techniques for measurement, (Krosnick). • Concerns about response variability due to context effects and question wording, (Gaskell) and attitudes as on-line constructions (Zaller) • A return to affect (Schwarz) Early theories • Thomas and Znaniecki: attitudes as the individual counterpart to social values • This Durkheimian tradition was reinterpreted by Asch who saw attitudes as social sentiments – deep seated and an essential part of the fabric of a group. Allport and the individualisation of the social • Allport, G. (1954) the attitude: ‘a mental or neural state of readiness, organised through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence on the individuals responses to all objects and situations with which it is related’ • This definition represents the hard core assumption : attitudes are the mental triggers of action. A uni-directional causal path from attitudes to behaviours: the ‘projectile model’. Competing philosophical positions • Historically most researchers treat the attitude as a hypothetical construct • But different conceptions as to the nature of the construct. • An implicit response to a given object – an evaluation of some aspect of an unproblematic reality that is out there – the Cartesian position. • Attitudes are part of the construction of reality, a template through which reality is created – the Gestalt/constructivist approach 3 component model of attitudes Rosenberg – Yale School Cognitive: what you know Stimulus Attitude Evaluative: what you feel Behavioural: what you do Observable antecedents Hypothetical variable Observable responses Attitudes can be measured • Take 50 or so statements about a social object • Thurstone’s technique: judges allocate the statements on an interval scale from positive to negative • Item analysis leads to selection of circa 12 items that amount to a ruler to determine where a person is located on the attitudinal dimension • Likert’s technique: judges rate statements on scale strongly agree (+2) thru neither agree nor disagree (0) to strongly disagree (-2). Can be from 5 to 11 scale points • Item analysis leads to selection of questions which individually correlate with the total of all items • Leading to a cumulative scale – respondents indicate level of agreement/disagreement to all items. • Helped along by developments in statistical sampling theory Theory and measurement drive programmes of research • Quantitative index of the affective component • Measurement equals ‘science’ • Parallel developments of the cognitive component not pursued • Justification from consistency theory – the three components in a dynamic equilibrium cf Festinger’s cognitive dissonance – if behaviour is at variance with cognition and affect then rationalisation. A troubling anomaly: ‘what we say and what we do’ • Concerns about the unquestioned link between attitudes and behaviour. - La Pierre. • Wicker (1969) “taken as a whole (a metaanalysis), these studies show that attitudes are more likely to be only slightly or unrelated to behaviour”. • Essentially, the projectile model abandoned (or should have been) as the projectile’s progress is affected by laws, norms and social pressures – the social context • This should have been obvious from research into group processes cf Kurt Lewin in the 1950s Fishbein – the basis of modern theorising on the attitude • A 2 component model • Attitude becomes the affect (+ve or –ve) attached to an object. • Cognition is beliefs about the object • And behavioural intention (note not behaviour, since the road to hell is paved with good intentions) is a function of the attitude and social normative beliefs. • Extended into a model of planned behaviour and the basis for health beliefs model Problems with the attitude construct • One from of representing the world – a ranking in terms of preference; but there are other ways of representing the world that are of interest. • On important matters ‘few think alone’; where is the social in the social psych of the attitude? Fishbein’s social normative beliefs contrasts the sovereign individual and the social world • What about widespread beliefs – how do we account for these? • What are the origins of attitudes? Possibly values – taking us back to the early days of social psychology. This is my current preoccupation, but that is another lecture.