Ethics and Human Interface:

Lecture 6 : Attitude

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Topics Covered:

  1. Content,
  2. Structure
  3. Function
  4. Attitude influence and relation with thought and Behaviour

Attitude – Functions

Attitudes are important as they can affect actions, feelings, and thoughts. If you have definite attitudes, that may be beneficial to you. Attitude tend to mediate between the individuals’ inner desires, e.g., self-expression and the outer world. Also, the mindset lets individuals achieve their basic objectives.

Based on their functions

  1. Knowledge function: knowing someone’s attitude provides knowledge.
  2. Ego-defensive function: attitudes help individuals to protect their self-esteem and ignore depression.
  3. Ego-expressive function: used to convey one’s beliefs or core values
  4. Instrumental function: helps to select what is rewarding (and also avoid punishment).
  5. Social Acceptance function: adapt to the socially approved attitudes of a larger group.

Attitude’s Influence and Relation with Thought and Behavior

One’s attitude and behaviour are closely related to each other. Attitude actually influences one’s behaviour. However, one is not aware of it when this is happening. Everyone has attitudes which are vastly shaped by past experiences in their life. Everyone experiences different situations and are influenced by different kinds of people compared to others. As a result, everyone’s attitude is shaped differently and everyone seems to act differently in a particular situation. Our attitude also influences those around us and vice-a-versa. Having a positive attitude makes you productive, deal with any problem effectively and look at failures as a means to introspect and improve oneself rather than losing all hope and giving up. Whereas having a negative attitude will have a completely opposite effect compared to above.

However, it has been observed that there is more than one kind of attitudes each influencing our behaviour in a particular way. According to American psychologist Daniel Katz, there are namely four types of attitudes.

Instrumental – This type of attitude arises when an incentive is involved. If a job we are assigned is associated with an incentive or reward, we automatically develop a positive attitude towards it. All our actions involved in the job reflect our motivation for obtaining that incentive or reward. We start taking things more seriously and come up with innovative ways so as to achieve our goal of obtaining the reward effectively. In this case, our behaviour is completely different than that which would have resulted if our job would not have been associated with a reward.

Knowledge – Us humans lookout for clarity and order in life. We often tend to seek the reason as to why we are doing something or what is the outcome of what we are doing. The amount of effort we put in also depends largely on the expected outcome. Absence of clarity tends to us not putting our complete effort into the task at hand compared to when we have a clear understanding of why we are doing it. In both cases, our actions or more specifically our behaviour will be different.

Ego-defensive – This particular attitude acts as a defence against the harsh realities of certain truths in life that one may be unwilling to accept. It protects us from psychological harm. When a senior executive is opposed by an employee junior to him, he/she may be unwilling to accept it even though he/she may be wrong. Accepting their fault may lead to them being psychologically troubled. So, the ego-defensive attitude influences their behaviour in such a way that their actions prevent them from psychological harm.

Value-expressive – Our values define our identity and establish who we are. An individual may have certain values integral to themselves that help shape their attitude. If an organization inculcates values in its employees which are aligned with the values of the organization, it will develop a certain passion among the individuals and will lead them to achieve better results.

Attitude, when shaped in the right way, can influence behaviour to achieve a favourable outcome. The concept that behaviour follows attitude is used extensively by advertising and marketing companies. When done right, advertisements can change the attitudes of people towards some things especially their product. As a result, the viewer tends to or at least considers buying that product. This behaviour of the person would not have arisen if it was not for the change in attitude caused by the advertisement. A similar concept is used by psychologists while formulating means to tackle social issues like racism, discrimination, etc. “Social Marketing ” is a concept that uses the above idea along with the concepts of marketing to encourage good behaviours in people and at the same time discourage some bad behaviours such as frequent smoking, drinking, etc. This involves literally selling attitudes to people thereby influencing their behaviour.

How can you change one’s attitude ?

Attitude change occurs anytime an attitude is modified. Thus, change occurs when a person goes from being positive to negative, from slightly positive to very positive, or from having no attitude to having one. The various theories that can be used include:

Learning Theory of Attitude Change: Classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observer experience should be used to bring in improvements in attitude.

(1) Classical conditioning –Build positive emotional responses by associating positive emotions with the target response to an object, person, or event.

(2) Operant conditioning – strengthen desirable attitudes and weaken undesirable ones.

(3) Observational learning – let people observe the behavior of others so that they change their attitude.

Elaboration Likelihood Theory of Attitude Change (The theory of persuasion): This theory of persuasion supports that people can change their attitudes in two ways.

Firstly, they can be inspired to listen and consider the message, contributing to a shift in attitude.

They may be influenced by the speaker ‘s characteristics, leading to a temporary shift in attitude or surface. Thought-provoking statements that speak to intuition are more likely to contribute to positive improvements in attitudes.

Dissonance Theory of Attitude Change:

As mentioned earlier, when people have conflicting beliefs about a subject (cognitive dissonance) they can also change their attitudes. People often shift their attitudes toward reducing the tension created by these incompatible beliefs. In the earlier example, the dissonance was created by giving an incentive to change behaviour, and consequently attitude was also changed.

Practice question:

  1. Discuss the functions of the attitude. Give examples in favour of your answer.
  2. How could social influence and persuasion contribute to the success of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan? (2016)
  3. Our attitudes towards life, work, other people and society are generally shaped unconsciously by the family and the social surroundings in which we grow up. Some of these unconsciously acquired attitudes and values are often undesirable in the citizens of a modern democratic and egalitarian society. (2016)

(a) Discuss such undesirable values prevalent in today’s educated Indians.

(b) How can such undesirable attitudes be changed and socio-ethical values considered necessary in public services be cultivated in the aspiring and serving civil servants?

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