Social psychologists unfortunately do not agree on the precise definition of an attitude. In fact, there are more than 100 different definitions of the concept. However, four definitions are more commonly accepted than others. One conception is that attitude is how positive or negative, favorable or unfavorable or pro or con a person feels toward an object. This definition views attitude as a feeling or an evaluation reaction to objects.
A second definition represents the thoughts of Allport, who views attitudes as learned pre-dispositions to respond to an object or class of objects in a consistently favorable or favorable way. This definition is slightly more complicated than the first because it incorporates the notion of a readiness to respond toward objects.
A second definition represents the thoughts of Allport who views attitudes as learned predispositions to an object or class of objects in a consistently favorable or unfavorable way. This definition is slightly more complicated than the first because it incorporates the notion of a readiness to respond an object.
Third definition of attitude popularized by cognitively oriented social psychologists is: an enduring organization of motivational emotional perceptual and cognitive process with respect to some aspect of the individual’s world. These views attitudes as being made up of three components; (1) the cognitive or knowledge component (2) the affective or emotional component and (3) the cognitive or behavioral tendency component.
More recently theorists have given more attention to new definitions of attitude which has generated much research and has been useful in predicting behavior. This definition explicitly treats attitude as being multidimensional in nature, as opposed to the uni-dimensional emphasis taken by earlier definitions. Here, a person’s overall attitude toward an object is seen to be function of (1) the strength of each of a number of beliefs the person holds about various aspects of the object and (2) the evaluation e gives to each belief as it relates to the object. A belief is the probability a person attaches to a given piece of knowledge being true.
This last definition has considerable appeal because it has been shown that consumers perceive a product (object) as having many attributes and they form beliefs about each of these attributes. For example a consumer may believe strongly that Listerine mouthwash kills germs helps prevent colds, gives people clean, refreshing breath and prevents sore throats. If this consumer evaluates all five of these attributes as favorable qualities, then according to the definition he would have a strongly favorable overall attitude toward the brand. On the other hand, a second consumer might believe just as strongly as the first consumer that Listerine possesses all five of these traits; however she may not evaluate all attributes a favorably as the first consumer does. Therefore her overall attitude toward the brand would be less favorable.
It has been important to provide all four attitude definitions because the majority of attitude studies have been based on them.
Characteristics of attitudes
Attitudes have several important characteristics or properties namely they (1) have an object: (2) have direction, intensity and degree; (3) have structure and (4) are learned.
Attitudes have an object
By definition attitudes must have an object that is, they must have a focal point – whether it be an abstract concept such as ethical behavior or a tangible item, such as a motorcycle. The object can be a physical thing, such as product or it can be an action, such as buying a lawnmower. In addition the object can be either one item, such as a person or a collection of items such as a social group, it also can be either specific (Deutschmacher bologna) or general (imported meats).