Moderating variables and self perception theory

The most powerful moderators have been found to be the importance of the attitude, its specificity, its accessibility, whether there exist social pressures, and whether a person has direct experience with the attitude.

Important attitudes are ones that reflect fundamental values, self-interest, or identification with individuals or groups that a person values. Attitudes that individuals consider important tend to show a strong relationship to behavior.

The more specific the attitude and the more specific the behavior, the stronger is the link between the two. For instance, asking someone specifically about her intention to stay with the organization for the next months is likely to better predict turnover for that person than if you asked satisfied she was with her pay.

Attitudes that are easily remembered are more likely to predict behavior than attitudes that are not accessible in memory. Interestingly, you’re more likely to remember attitudes that are frequently expressed. So the more you talk about your attitude on a subject, the more you’re likely to remember it, and the more likely it is to shape your behavior.

Discrepancies between attitudes and behavior are more likely to occur when social pressures to behave in certain ways hold exceptional power. This tends to characterize behavior in organizations. This may explain why an employee who holds strong anti-union attends pro-union organizing meetings; or why tobacco executives, who are not smokers themselves and who tend to believe the research linking smoking and cancer, don’t actively discourage others from smoking in their offices.

Finally, the attitude-behavior relationship is likely to be much stronger if an attitude refers to something with which the individual has direct personal experience. Asking college students with no significant work experience how they would respond to working for an authoritarian supervisor is far less likely to predict actual behavior than asking that same question of employees who have actually worked for such an individual.

Self-Perception Theory:

Although most A-B studies yield positive results, researchers have achieved still higher correlations by pursuing another direction looking at whether or not behavior influences attitudes. This view, called self-perception theory, has generated some encouraging findings. Let’s briefly review the theory.

When asked about an attitude toward some object, individuals often recall their behavior relevant to that object and then infer their attitude from their past behavior. So if an employee was asked about her feelings about being a training specialist at Marriott, she would likely think, “I’ve had this same job with Marriott as a trainer for 10 years. Nobody forced me to stay on this job. So I must like it!� Self-perception theory, therefore, argues that attitudes are used, after the fact, to make sense out of an action that has already occurred rather than as devices that precede and guide action. And contrary to cognitive dissonance theory, attitudes are just casual verbal statements. When people are asked about their attitudes, and they don’t have strong convictions or feelings, self-perception theory says they tend to create plausible answers.

Self-perception theory has been well supported. Although the traditional attitude-behavior relationship is generally positive, the behavior-attitude relationship is stronger. This is particularly true when attitudes are vague and ambiguous. When you have had few experiences regarding an attitude issue or given little previous thought to it, you’ll tend to infer your attitudes from your behavior. However, when your attitudes have been established for a while and are well defined, those attitudes are likely to guide your behavior.

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