The Study on Attitude as a Determinant of Behaviour

Categories: Attitude


Social Psychologist have been asking on how attitudes are form, the exact meaning of attitudes and how does attitude determine behaviour. Attitude has been defined as personal view of something; an opinion or general feeling about something. Attitudes can be amplifies as a hypothetical construct that represents an individual’s degree; a favourable or unfavourable evaluative reaction toward something or someone, exhibited in one’s beliefs, feelings or intended behaviour (Myers, p. 36). it is a social orientation – an underlying inclination to respond to something either favourably or unfavourably.

On the other hand, behaviour is somehow a response(s), the way in which a person, organism, or group responds to a specific set of conditions. The question that “does attitude determine behaviour? ” will be further discuss in this following essay.

Literature Review

Case Study: Attitudes and Behavioural Intentions Toward Vietnamese in Australia Australia like another countries, is founded on immigrants. After the world war II, British was the majority immigrants to Australia.

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There also increase of Asians immigrants (mostly Vietnamese) settled in Australia. It had been question whether or not to continue Asian immigrants to Australia; this lead to a heated debate in Parliament during May 1984. However in December 1984 during the Australian federal election, the prime minister and the leader of opposition did not want immigration as a point of debate. Nonetheless, the anti-Asian in Australia question to what extent Australians might be racist? Wrighstman (1972) has indicated that one of the reason that so much energy has been invested in the study of attitudes stems from the presumption that they are related to a variety of different attitudes and actions.

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La Piere’s (1934) study showed the inconsistency between attitudes and behaviour revealing the lack of correspondence in which later verified by Kutner, Wilkinds and Yarrow (1952). Thus, various ways was have been done to examine the racial attitudes as well as behavioural intent toward one group of Asians, which are Vietnamese refugees.

The researchers, one of them is Thomas in 1974 selected random people (Australian residents) with different gender, age and social class, in which respondent have to answer a questionnaire regarding anti-Vietnamese prejudice. The result shows that it failed to support the hypothesis that racism is more likely among men or women, young or old and those who spent their life in urban or rural areas. However the result also shows that people who have less formal education tend to have racially prejudiced attitudes and intended to behave in racially ways while those who have education more tended to be more racially prejudiced both in their attitude and behaviour. This is because, those who have higher education are more interested in making debate, more educational knowledge than those who have less formal education. Those who tend to have lower income earners racially prejudiced behaviour towards the Vietnamese Refugees than those who have higher income earners, this also been supported by the hypothesis that the persons who perceive themselves as economically deprived will tend to be racially prejudiced.

As since they have better position in the workplace and salary, there are more concern about their job and family while those who has low income earners might feel like the immigrants took their opportunity to have better position and income due to more immigrants means less job opportunity for them. This has been supported by Allport (1954), which he has suggested in most countries people grow fiercely possessive of their property and any threat to it, real or imagined will invoke anxiety and anger. One way in which anxiety and anger can find expression is through attitudes and behaviour toward any group that is perceived as a possible threat to that property. It is best to identify the Anti-Asian sentiment observed recently in Australia as authoritarian attitude.


The study of attitude are important to social psychologists due to one of the foremost aims of psychology is to study behaviour. Studies also have shown that behaviour is influenced by attitude as attitude operate as a motivational force within an individual which resulted in certain behaviour. Thus, by knowing a person’s attitude, a person can anticipate how she or he will behave Attitude as an enduring evaluation, that creates positive or negative reaction to people, objects and ideas for example when people use words such as like, love, dislike, hate, good and bad, they are usually describing their attitudes. The attitudes are form mainly from our own personal experiences which include the influences from other people. Rosenberg and Hovland (1960) explained how attitudes are form, it is divided into three component, cognitive, affective and behavioural component.

First, the cognitive component is made from our values and beliefs, while affective component is mainly about how we feel about something or someone and lastly, behavioural component is how we as a person behave towards another person, object or place. Attitudes are also formed through two simple processes, the mere exposure effect and classical conditioning. The mere exposure is the tendency to develop more positive feelings toward objects and individuals as the more we are exposed to them, for instance Zajonc (1968) suggested we form our attitudes using the mere exposure effect, this is where a person hear a track playing on the radio, at first the person did not like the song and as the track keep on repeated on the radio around 5 times, the person started to like the song and buy the album. As well as the person might like a couple more tracks but may not like the whole album but the more the person plays and listens to the album, it will automatically grow to like it.

Another example will be, in every lecture, I always came 5 minutes early, within a week, I always encountered a particular person that came as early as myself to the class but I am sure that she is not in that module because I recognize everyone in the class, I want to ask her but I feel shy to encounter her at the first place. After few days, I began to smile at her and asked her “who is she? ” till then we started talking and she told me that she was an exchange students for 3 months. Thus, my positive attitude towards the person is the result of my frequent encounter. While the classical conditioning is somewhat the self is paired with and event or object that elicits a pleasurable or painful emotional reaction, and thus the self is conditioned to elicit the same reaction, for example when the father angrily asked his children not to spend money on unnecessary things due to his many debt while their mother happily announces that she is being promoted as manager at her workplace. These parents are expressing their emotions. For their child that are watching, it will trigger the emotional responses of the child : the child feels upset and disturbed when listening to the father and happy when listening to the mother.

In this case, the stimuli are the attitude topic and the parental emotion. Through repeated association, a formerly neutral stimulus (the attitude topic – debt) begins to elicit an emotional reaction (the response) that was previously solicited only by another stimulus (the parental emotion); whenever debt are mentioned, the child unpleasant emotion and when promoted is mentioned, the child feels a pleasant emotion. Another example would be a dog, Kumar always rung the bell to tell the his dog it is “eat time”, the time to receive food. Food indeed made dogs salivate. Then whenever a bell was rung, Kumar’s dog salivated even when food was not present. This explains why behaviours can persist even after reinforcement is withdrawn. However, we can actually form our attitudes mainly from our own personal experiences including influences from other people. Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) and Oscamp (1977) agreed with the idea about how direct experience form our attitudes, for example if you have been traumatised experience at the hospital due to injection, then your friend influence your mind that injection is very hurtful, then u may develop negative attitude to all hospital and even clinics that have injection.

Does Attitude Determine Behaviour?

Attitude is the person’s emotion and feelings towards something or someone while behaviour is a person’s respond and reaction Attitude influence behaviour but simultaneously behaviour might also influence by attitude but many times it may not be true as there are arguments on both sides. There are four well known basic theory on how attitude does shape behaviour and vice –versa; Operant conditioning, observational learning, Self-Perception theory and lastly facial and body expression. Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which behaviour is strengthened if followed by reinforcement and weakened if followed by punishment. According to the theory of operant conditioning, a person’s behaviour also reflected his or her attitude. Imagine a young man who has just started smoking, whenever he lights up a cigarette in public, people look at him with the “disagree” look and some will ask him to leave their vicinity because of the smoke can cause harm to the people near him. This negative feedback he got from the those people around him eventually causes him to develop an unfavourable opinion of smoking and he decides to quit smoking.

While the observational learning can take place when people observed how society treated someone who smoke in public and they started to learn and might develop a negative attitude towards smoking. Followed by Self-Perception theory, according to Daryl Bem who developed this theory he argues that we often do not know what our attitudes are and instead, simply infer them from our behaviour and the circumstances under which the behaviour occurs. Number of studies have confirmed that self-perception theory exist and can influences people in many unexpected contexts for example Bem conducted an experiment that involved subjects who listened to a recording of man describing a peg-turning task enthusiastically. Group A said that the man was paid one dollar for his testimonial because they believed that he enjoyed the task more than how much the group B believed he enjoyed it as they said he was paid twenty-dollars. The two group judge based on the feelings that the actors had expressed, both groups know how the actors felt and it was concluded that the actors must have arrived at the way they felt from observing their own behaviour as well. Furthermore, facial and body expression can also be able to determine behaviour.

Experiment done by Robert Zajonc shows that smiling face (positive attitude)causes muscles to increase the flow of air-cooled blood to the the brain which produce pleasant mood for example associate with positive attitudes such as being friendly while frowning face (negative attitude) decrease blood flow causing heightened brain temperature producing an unpleasant mood that associated with negative attitude. Body gesture and posture can be most direct and obvious body language signal for example someone who crossed his arms might indicate that a person feels defensive, self protective or closed-off while when a person rapidly tapping fingers or fidgeting can be a sign that the person is bored, impatient or frustrated. The term posture refers to how we hold our body as well as the overall physical form of an individual such as open posture involves that keeping the trunk of the body open and exposed indicates friendliness, openness and willingness while close posture involves hiding the trunk of the body often by hunching forward and keeping the arms and legs crossed indicates of hostility, unfriendliness and anxiety. Underdstanding someone’s body language can help better communication with other and interpreting what others might be trying to convey. Nonetheless, we all do have attitudes but these might not represent our behaviour as in the study of LaPiere (1934) regarding the inconsistency of attitude and behaviour. LaPiere over a two year period conducted a survey, he visited 128 hotels and restaurants with a Chinese couple.

The reason why he choose to go with the Chinese couple was because it was during the time media reporting lots of prejudice towards Chinese people. During their visits to these places they were discriminated against once out of 128 establishment. However, LaPiere did not gave up, after he returned back six months later, he sent out questionnaires to the same establishments and surrounding areas that they had visited, asking if they (the people) would book a room or reserve a table for a Chinese couple. Thus questionnaires had three options to choose from “yes”, “no” and “depends on circumstances”. The result showed that one said no and the rest about 92% said depends on the circumstances. This have been supported by Martin Fishbein (1967-1975), he argues that there is no good reason to believe that an overall measure of attitude toward an person or object will necessarily predict behaviour. According to him, attitude is indeed a hypothetical concept abstracted from the totality of a person’s feelings, beliefs and behavioural intentions. Thus, an isolated specific behaviour may be unrelated, or even negatively related to the overall attitude.


As for the conclusion, from above discussion, it can be yes and no answer on whether or not attitude determine behaviour. Yes, attitude define someone’s behaviour. Attitudes can positively and negatively affect a person’s behaviour, for example when a person have positive attitude, he/she is kind with anyone(such as helping people, friendliness), it can positively influence those around them. However, it is also a No, because even though we all have attitudes it may not represent our behaviour as it depends on the situation, place and who are we talking to, as attitudes do not always predict behaviour. Cognitive and affective component of attitude are not necessarily expressed in behaviour.

Overall, it depends on the individual on how they construct their attitude and behaviour, not all people are the same. They can use planned behaviour when their behaviour prior to acting. In my opinion, this is because we don’t have privileged to access our own thoughts and feelings as sometimes attitudes result in spontaneous and unintentional behaviour. Attitudes are the result of our experience and upbringing but I believe that it can be change but do takes time.

Updated: Feb 23, 2024
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The Study on Attitude as a Determinant of Behaviour. (2024, Feb 23). Retrieved from

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