Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 8: Attitudes and behavior (pp. 269305)

What's it about?

Attitudes and actions are very closely related, and are often consistent, because they influence each other in both superficial and deliberate ways. How actions influence attitudes depends on the level of processing: people can make simple action-to-attitude inferences (usually through self-perception processes), or can make deeper considerations of the implications of their actions (through cognitive dissonance processes). Self-perception theory states that actions influence attitudes because people infer their attitudes by observing their own behavior and the situations in which their behavior occurs.

The foot-in-the-door technique works when people process information superficially; it gets people to perform a small act consistent with an intended larger goal. As long as the initial request seems meaningful and voluntary, this makes people infer that they hold attitudes consistent with that behavior, and makes them subject to further influences. When people become aware that their freely chosen actions violate important or relevant attitudes, this inconsistency produces an uncomfortable state of arousal called cognitive dissonance, which motivates them to change their initial attitudes to make them consistent with their behavior, or to increase the value they place on a goal, and to emphasize the positive aspects of the chosen option.

Established attitudes can guide behavior in two ways: superficially, and in a more considered way. Attitudes can bias people's perceptions of attitude objects, because they focus attention on the consistent characteristics of an object. This bias process increases the likelihood that people's behavior will be consistent with their attitude in a direct way: people respond to the object qualities most salient to them, and behave in attitude-consistent ways. Attitudes can also influence behavior in more considered ways by prompting intentions, which trigger plans to act in certain ways.

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 8 introduction
  2. Changing attitudes with actions
  3. Guiding actions with attitudes
  4. Chapter overview (PDF)
  5. Fill-in-the-blanks
  6. Multiple-choice questions