This article deals with the topic titled ‘Attitude.’ This is part of our series on ‘Ethics’. For more articles, you can click here.

Attitude: Meaning & Types

  • Attitudes are learned enduring predispositions to respond consistently either in favourable or unfavourable manners towards objects, events and persons.  
  • In entrance exams, interviews are specifically designed to check the attitude of a person.  
  • Attitudes can be positive or negative
    • Positive Attitudes includes Optimism, Tolerance etc.
    • Negative Attitudes includes Pessimism, Intolerance etc.
  • Studying attitude is important because it shapes people’s perceptions of the social and physical world and influence their behaviour.

Why Studying Attitude is important for Civil Servant?

The main point for the Administrator is how to change the attitude of people. Following examples will help you to appreciate this fact

  1. Swachh Bharat Scheme: Even if the government helps the common people in building latrine via the Swatch Bharat Scheme, people use it as a storage room instead of a latrine. Hence, just pouring money can’t help. There is a need to change the attitude of people.
  2. Mid Day Meal: If a school employs a cook of lower caste to prepare food to be distributed under Mid Day Meal Scheme, people belonging to higher caste stop sending their children to school.
  3. Immunization Scheme: In countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, people don’t immunize their children thinking it to be an American scheme to make them infertile. 
  4. Temple Entry: Women aren’t allowed to enter the temple based on the Purity – Pollution Concept.

Characteristics of attitudes

  • Attitudes are abstract constructs, not something we can directly observe.
  • Attitudes are enduring
  • Attitude reflects the readiness for a response. 
  • Attitudes are acquired and learned
  • Attitudes are held because they perform some function for the holder.
  • Attitudes change with experiences and knowledge.
  • Attitudes are subjective experiences.
  • Attitudes conform to the principle of consistency. 
  • Attitudes may involve individual or group.
  • Attitudes are evaluative judgements.
  • Attitudes can be expressed verbally or non-verbally. 

From where does attitude come?

Attitude is the product of Genetics and Socialization (Environmental) factors

Attitude for UPSC

Models to Study Attitude

There are three broad ways for analysis of Attitude

  1. Structure of Attitude
  2. Function of Attitude
  3. Formation of Attitude

Model 1: Structure of Attitude – CAB/ABC Model

Attitude towards a particular object is formed by three components i.e. Affective, Behavioural & Cognitive

C: Cognitive / Belief

  • The cognitive Component is based on ideas, belief and opinion (knowledge).  
  • It has to be noted that belief can be factually correct or incorrect 
  • Examples: Tiger can eat human beings.

A: Affective / Emotional

  • Affective Component consists of emotions and feelings of attitude holder towards the attitude object. 
  • Examples: I am scared of tigers.

B: Behavioural / Action Based

  • The behavioural component is related to Action. It reflects the behavioural readiness of the attitude holder i.e. how a person tends to act/behave regarding the stimulus.  
  • It is in line with Self Perception Theory which states that people don’t have access to their opinions about different objects, and sometimes infer their attitudes by thinking about how they have behaved to objects in the past.
  • Example: I will scream and run away when I see a tiger.

Attitude = Combination of Cognitive, Affective and Behavioural components

CAB Model

Criticism of CAB Model

  • This model is not validated by empirical research as clear distinctions between thoughts, emotions, and behaviour cannot be established.
  • This model shows a large number of inconsistencies. For example, despite having a negative attitude towards people from some caste, our behaviour is mostly driven by the situation.

Model 2: Functions of Attitude

Instead of trying to think about the attitude in the very abstract way explained above, it is beneficial to study in terms of the functions they serve.

2.1 Need / Want Satisfaction Function

  • Some attitudes are held by the attitude holder because they help in satisfying their needs and wants. 
Need Satisfaction Function
  • These attitudes are termed as
    • Adjustive: As they help us in adjusting to life situations.
    • Utilitarian: A person will form this type of attitude to maximise reward & minimise punishment. 
  • The person will hold some attitude only till that attitude is helping the person to satisfy his needs.  
  • Hence, Attitudes serving Need or Want Function will change when 
    • Individual’s needs are changed. 
    • The individual is convinced that new attitudes that are suggested to him can meet his existing needs better (this can be used in case studies of convincing people with old ideology to change their attitude. Eg: Village elders stopping girls from going to school).

2.2 Knowledge

  • Attitude helps the Attitude holders to organize and interpret diverse sets of information.  
  • In simple words, when for the first time we see a person with a particular attitude doing particular work, we make a picture in our mind that another person showing a similar attitude will do the same work & create generalization (or stereotyping).
Knowledge Function of Attitude
  • Knowledge function doesn’t provide us with a factually truthful picture of the world, in fact, it provides a picture that is meaningful and understandable.
  • Such attitudes are likely to change in situations when due to the addition of certain facts or experiences, it becomes difficult for the attitude holder to continue with his existing attitude

2.3 Ego Defensive

  • Attitudes help to prevent us from guilt feeling by holding attitudes that enhance our self-esteem and defend us against the arrows of life
  • It is also known as ‘Scape-Goat View’ as Scapegoating helps us to release pent up feelings and emotions.
Ego Defensive of Attitude
  • Ego Defensive attitudes are difficult to change as they result from the inadequacies in the individual’s personality rather than the attitude object (all other functions are wrt Attitude object).  Thus merely providing the individual with counter attitudinal information is not sufficient. Therefore the need is to provide an environment where the individual feels truly valued & manifests readiness to lower his defences.   

Other examples of Ego-Defensive Attitudes

  • America is one of the largest Green House Gas emitters in the world. Their industrialists/academicians are in ‘climate denial mode’- by arguing that global warming is a fictional theory.  

2.4 Ego Expressive

  • Ego Expressive attitudes help a person to establish his identity & convey the kind of person he is.
  • Eg: Gandhi switched to Khadi from Coat-Pant to express his value of SELF RELIANCE & SIMPLE LIVING.
  • Value expressive attitudes, therefore, helps us in the exercise of expression management.
  • Like Ego Defensive Attitudes, they are difficult to change as they are deeply entrenched in the individuals’ personality.
  • Change may however occur if 
    1. Individual’s values have changed 
    2. A person is convinced that the attitudes that are suggested to him will express his underlying values better. 

Model 3: Attitude Formation

  • Attitude is formed by ‘stimuli’ – it can be internal or external.
  • Application to learn how Attitudes are formed is that we can use the same to change Attitude as well.

3.1 Pavlovian/ Classical Conditioning

  • A learning process occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired: a response that is at first elicited by the second stimulus is eventually elicited by the first stimulus alone.
  • It was first discovered by Igor Pavlov in his dog, bell & food experiment. Hence, it is also known as Pavlovian Conditioning.
  • In humans, it can be used to create phobias. This was shown by Watson and Rayner in their Experiment on Albert (1920).
    • Albert (9-month-old infant) was shown a rat, a rabbit, a monkey and various masks and Albert remained unemotional. But if a hammer was struck against a steel bar, sudden loud noise would make him burst into tears.
    • In the experiment, he was shown a rat and simultaneously the hammer was struck against the steel bar. This was repeated.
    • After that, when he was just shown rat he started to cry. 
Pavlovian Conditioning
Watson and Rayner Experiment
  • ApplicationCreation of Phobias to change attitude (Cut Challan for not wearing a helmet with full strictness. Gradually person will start to equate not wearing a helmet with Challan (Operant Conditioning is also at work here)).

3.2 Operant Conditioning

  • Related to Reward and Punishment 
    • If certain behaviour leads to a positive outcome or reward, the attitude related to that behaviour will be strengthened. 
    • If certain behaviour leads to a negative outcome or punishment, the attitude related to that behaviour will be suppressed.
Operant Conditioning
  • Application 
    • If a person is doing wrong things, punish him and he will form a negative attitude towards that.
    • If a person is doing good work, reward him/her and he/she will form a positive attitude towards that.

3.3 Observational / Social learning

A person forms attitude by watching other people around them or people they admire. 


  • Children observe the attitude of their parents and most of the times their attitude is conformant with that of their parents. 
  • If parents follow the caste system, children will follow too.


  • Whatever one sees on TV & other social media, there is a high likelihood that person will try it in his life.
Observational Learning in Attitude Formation

3.4 Direct personal experience

  • Direct Personal Experiences have a huge impact on the formation of attitudes towards that thing.
  • One might have heard negatives about Pakistanis throughout his life. But if his direct encounter with them even for an hour is good, that will have an overpowering influence on the person.

It should be noted that Attitude formation or learning is a lifelong process, as it is based on experiences we gather or the lessons we learn from people around us.

Agencies of Attitude Formation

Agencies of Attitude Formation
Agencies of Attitude Formation

Factors influencing Behaviour – Attitude Link

The attitude and Behaviour link is not so simple. Many times, a person doesn’t act according to the attitude he holds. Attitude – Behaviour link can be seen in the following ways:-

Attitude Relevance

  • The greater is the vested interest, the stronger would be Attitude-Behaviour link.

Attitude Strength

  • The stronger is the attitude held, the more consistent the would be Attitude-Behaviour link. 
  • Strength will be high when
    1. If attitude is formed by direct experience.  
    2. If one is expecting a favourable outcome. 
    3. If attitude is formed because of his vested interests.  

Attitude Specificity

  • Specificity here means how specific an attitude do we have towards something. Having hazy or multiple attitudes towards something reduces their specificity. For example, political attitude towards an issue can be fuzzy and change according to the group that we are in.

Attitude Accessibility

  • The more accessible are the Attitudes, the more likely it is that they will dominate our consciousness. 
  • Those attitudes which are expressed more frequently are more accessible. 

Social /External pressure

  • We are less likely to display our true attitudes if we believe that others hold a different attitude regarding the same object and we have high regard for those others. 
  • Bandwagon Effect: When people do something primarily because other people are doing it. It is seen commonly in political and consumer behaviour. 
  • Peer Pressure: You might be against Caste System but still marry in your caste because of peer pressure. 
  • Bottom line: Relation between attitude and behaviour is not straightforward. “Social influence / peer-pressure” matters and it can force a person to behave differently from his Attitude.


  • Congruence refers to the consistency among different components of our attitude. If the knowledge component and affective component are inconsistent then our behaviour would depend more on the situation than on attitude per se.

Direct Experience

  • Attitudes based on direct experience are more strongly held and influence behaviour more than attitudes formed indirectly (for example, through hear-say, reading or watching television).

La Pierre Case Study (1934)

  • Aim: To investigate the relationship between attitudes and behaviour.
  • Method: La-Pierre travelled around American hotels with a Chinese couple, expecting to meet discriminatory behaviour, because of anti-Chinese feeling prevailing at that time. At the time prejudice against Asians was widespread and there were no laws against racial discrimination. They visited 67 hotels and 184 restaurants. Six months later, after their return, all the establishments they had visited were sent a letter, asking whether they would accept Chinese guests.
  • Results: While visiting hotels personally, they were refused at only one of the establishments they visited, and were generally treated very politely. But while responding to the letter, of the 128 establishments which responded to the letter, 91% said they were not willing to accept Chinese guests.
  • Conclusion: Attitudes do not always predict behaviour. Cognitive and affective components of attitudes are not necessarily expressed in behaviour. Thus, La-Pierre’s study shows that the cognitive and affective components of attitudes (e.g. disliking Chinese people) do not necessarily reflect in their actual behaviour (e.g. serving them).

Behaviour-Attitude mismatch and its use  in Governance

  • There are many instances where we don’t behave in accordance with our attitude  
  • In Administration too, this has utility. The reason is, changing Attitude is a time-consuming process. Hence, as a first measure, the Administrator must change behaviour.

Cognitive Dissonance

  • Cognitive Dissonance is the situation of intense psychological stress due to conflict or inconsistency in feelings, beliefs and behaviour (the three components of attitude).
  • For example: When people smoke (behaviour) and are aware that smoking causes cancer (cognition), they are in a state of cognitive dissonance.
  • The principle of Cognitive consistency states that human beings have an inner drive to hold their attitudes and behaviour in harmony and avoid disharmony. So, when there is an inconsistency between attitude and behaviour, something must change to eliminate the dissonance. Hence, a person will adopt one of the following ways to deal with this
    1. An individual can change or eliminate inconsistent behaviour. E.g.- giving up smoking.
    2. Acquire new information that outweighs the dissonant beliefs. For e.g. new information such as “research has not proved definitely that smoking causes lung cancer”.
    3. Reduce the importance of the cognitions (i.e. beliefs, attitudes). For e.g. a person could convince himself that it is better to “live for today” than to “save for tomorrow”, thus decreasing the importance of the dissonant cognition.

Stereotypes, Prejudices & Discriminations

Stereotypes and Prejudices are special types of Cognitive Component of Attitude and Attitude respectively. 


  • A stereotype is the cognitive component of Attitude but with some special characteristics 
    • It is rigid. 
    • It overlooks individual differences (it is held towards a group).
    • It is irrational.
    • It represents a case of OVER-GENERALIZATION.
  • Note: Stereotypes can be negative as well as positive 


  • Indians are IT Programmers (Stereotype held by Americans towards Indians).
  • Jains are traders.
  • Gujaratis are business-minded.
  • Punjabis are party lovers.


  • Prejudice is an irrational negative inter-group attitude.
  • It has the same three components but with special (and negative) characteristics. 
    1. Cognitive/ Belief: But Belief, in this case, is replaced by a ‘Negative’ Stereotype. 
    2. Affective / Emotion: The emotion component is negative like hate, dislike etc.  
    3. Behaviour / Action: Desire to harm or destroy. 
  • Eg: I dislike (attitude towards an object) Africans (attitude object) because they are drug dealers. 


  • If that prejudice is guiding your behaviour.
  • E.g.: Refusing to rent the house to an African in the society.

Implicit and Explicit Prejudice

Explicit Prejudice

  • These are visible prejudices.
  • Example: Untouchability against so-called lower castes in Indian society.

Implicit Prejudice

  • When society develops, explicit prejudices start to decline. But they are not eradicated and are present in psychology. 
  • Eg: Slavery has been banned in the US. But this doesn’t mean that White men think about Blacks in the same way as other Whites. 

In India, prejudices such as caste prejudice and discrimination due to such prejudices are more frequent and strong because

  • Legitimising discrimination through history, folklore and perception. Eg: Legitimising the Caste system through shastras and exploitation of lower caste people. 
  • Separate settlements result in a lack of intergroup contact and communication.
  • Multiple groups compete for the same limited resources. Hence, a socio-economically powerful group brandishes others as incompetent.

1 thought on “Attitude”

  1. Just wonderful, clear and effective article.


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