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date: 09 December 2023

Formation of Attitudes: How People (Wittingly or Unwittingly) Develop Their Viewpointslocked

Formation of Attitudes: How People (Wittingly or Unwittingly) Develop Their Viewpointslocked

  • Blair T. Johnson, Blair T. JohnsonUniversity of Connecticut
  • Lisset Martinez-BermanLisset Martinez-BermanUniversity of Connecticut
  •  and Christine M. CurleyChristine M. CurleyUniversity of Connecticut


An attitude is a mental tendency to evaluate an entity along an evaluative continuum with some degree of favor or disfavor; attitudes sum up liking or opinions toward something. The entity in question can take any form, from tactile to virtual, from physical to imagined, and often scholars reference the entities generically as attitude objects. Attitudes are important because they predict and are causally implicated in behavior, especially when they are strongly embedded for an individual as when attitudes align with core values or are linked to social allegiances. Attitudes, to the extent that they are non-neutral, are automatically activated by exposure to the entity. They also enable motivated reasoning: People with extreme views on issues tend to view the world through the lenses that these attitudes provide. Thus, efforts to remove cherished objects or freedoms are met with resistance, and attitudes, once established, often create a confirmation bias such that the initial attitude is affirmed no matter how strong the opposing evidence. Hence, factors that influence attitudes and their development, ranging from biological to cultural, are also important. Biological influences can concern relatively distal genetic, inherited factors (which probably influence personality and in turn attitudes) and relatively proximal factors (e.g., hunger or social needs). Attitudes are often passively acquired without deep introspection or deliberation: Hence, attitudes may be based on beliefs that have no basis in reality. They may have an internal psycho-logic—an appearance of organization—rather than being logical from an external perspective. Attitudes formed in youth often are maintained and generalized to numerous other entities across the life span. Attitudes are thus keys to understanding individual experiences. They scale from individuals into shared communities and societies or indeed the reverse—from communities and societies to individuals. Thus, attitudes are strongly cultural. The converse is also true: Culture reflects normatively shared attitudes. Indeed, attitudes take a prominent role not only in psychology but also across numerous fields, ranging from biology to sociology and anthropology to religion and the arts. They are important to phenomena as simple as choices of ice cream flavors and as consequential as intergroup relations (e.g., prejudice and discrimination, hate, and bias).


  • Social Psychology

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