Functions of Attitudes

Attitudes serve four major functions for the individual: (1) the adjustments function, (2) the ego defensive function, (3) the value expressive function (4) the knowledge function. Ultimately these functions serve people’s need to protect and enhance the image they hold of themselves. In more general terms, these functions are the motivational bases which shape and reinforce positive attitudes toward goal objects perceived as need satisfying and / or negative attitudes toward other objects perceived as punishing or threatening. These situations are diagrammed in Figure below. The functions themselves can help us to understand why people hold the attitudes they do toward psychological objects.


Punishing threatening up rewarding objects — negative — Attitude — Positive need satisfying object

Adjustment Function

The adjustment function directs people toward pleasurable or rewarding objects and away from unpleasant, undesirable ones. It serves the utilitarian concept of maximizing reward and minimizing punishment. Thus, the attitudes of consumers depend to a large degree on their perceptions of what is needed satisfying and what is punishing. Because consumers perceive products, services and stores as providing need satisfying or unsatisfying experiences we should expect their attitudes toward these object to vary in relation to the experiences that have occurred.

Ego Defensive Function

Attitudes firmed to protect the ego or self image from threats help fulfill the ego defensive function. Actually many outward expressions of such attitudes reflect the opposite of what the person perceives him to be. For example a consumer who has made a poor purchase decision or a poor investment may staunchly defend the decision as being correct at the time or as being the result of poor advice from another person. Such ego defensive attitude helps us to protect out self image and often we are unaware of them.

Value expression function

Whereas ego defensive attitudes are formed to protect a person’s self image, value expressive attitudes enable the expression of the person’s centrally held values. Therefore consumers adopt certain attitudes in an effort to translate their values into something more tangible and easily expressed . Thus, a conservative person might develop an unfavorable attitude toward bright clothing and instead be attracted toward dark, pin striped suits.

Marketers should develop an understanding of what values consumers wish to express about themselves and they should design products and promotional campaigns to allow these self expressions. Not all products lend themselves to this form of market segmentation however. Those with the greatest potential for value expressive segmentation are ones with high social visibility. Cross pens, Saks Fifth Avenue clothes. Ferrari automobiles and Bang & Children stereo systems are examples.

Knowledge function

Humans have a need for a structured and orderly world, and therefore they seek consistency stability definition and understanding. Out of this need develops attitudes toward acquiring knowledge. In addition, the need to know tends to be specific. Therefore an individual who does not play golf, nor wish to learn the sport is unlikely to seek knowledge or an understanding of the game. This will influence the amount of information search devoted to this topic. Thus, out of our need to know come attitudes about what we believe we need or do not need to understand.

In addition attitudes enable consumers to simplify the complexity of the real world. That is, as was pointed out in the chapter information processing, the real world is too complex for us to cope with so we develop mechanisms to simplify situations. We saw that this involves sensory thresholds and selective attention and it also involves attitudes. Attitudes allow us to categorize or group objects as a way of knowing about them. Thus, when a new object is experienced we attempt to categorize it into a group which we know something about. In this way the object can share the reactions we have for other objects in the same category. This is efficient because we do not have to spend much effort reacting to each new object as a completely unique situation. Consequently we often find consumers reacting in similar ways to ads for going out of business sales limited time offers American made goods etc. Of course there is some risk of error in not looking at the unique aspects or new information about objects but for better or worse, our attitudes have influenced how we feel and react to new examples of these situations.

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