Friday, September 4, 2009

Attitudes Predict Behavior

Researchers in psychology, politics, and persuasion suggest that attitudes are expressions of an intent or predisposition to act. If my present attitude or opinion is that its time for a change in America politics from the extreme right toward the left, then I am likely to vote for a Democrat in the next election. If my attitude about obesity is that the warnings are overblown, then I will continue to eat like I have and fail to protect my children against the dangers. Attitudes are part of the Values-Beliefs-Attitudes chain.

Values are our conclusions about the ideal world, how the world should be. Values are nearly fixed and highly resistant to change. Beliefs are our conclusions about how the world really is. Beliefs can be strengthened, modified, or dispelled by an infusion of additional relevant information. Attitudes are our inclinations to act on beliefs, given our values. Attitudes appear to be highly changeable. Attitudes are based on the momentary assessment of many factors bearing on a choice before us. The factors may be extremely complex and interactive. They may include all relevant values, all relevant beliefs, assessment of all incentives, disincentives, and obstacles, assessment of history and prophecy, levels of fear and self-confidence, hopes, dreams, desires, what we had for breakfast, and which way the wind is blowing. Based on those and many more factors processed instantaneously by our mental computers, we make our choices. With all that variability, it is no wonder that attitudes can change from moment to moment.

So what?

Having looked briefly at values, beliefs, and attitudes, it should be apparent that the keys to successful pubic speaking are the abilities to understand universal human values, form and dispel beliefs, and influence attitudes. In doing so, we help to shape listener choices.

Learning Activity

Write down a value that is very important to you at the moment. Look back to the blog "Ain't No Big Mystery" for a partial list. The value you are writing down represents an ideal, one of the ways you conclude that things should be.

Now, next to that value write how you think things really are. If they fit the ideal, great. If not, how do they differ from the ideal? For example, if your value is human equality, you might write these beliefs:

Value: Human Equality


  • More minorities are prosecuted and imprisoned for crimes than Caucasians.
  • Fewer minorities go on to college.
  • More minorities live below the poverty line.

Then write down your attitude, i.e., what you believe we should do about the conditions you believe to exist. For example,

Attitude: We should lobby for better enforcement of Equal Opportunity legislation.

Try this pattern with two or three values until you can see clearly how values, beliefs, and attitudes relate.

© Frank Richardson, 2009.


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