Oxford dictionary defines attitude as ‘A settled way of thinking or feeling about something’. The Cambridge dictionary defines it as ‘a feeling or opinion about something or someone, or a way of behaving that is caused by this’. Still, it is difficult to arrive at a single widely acceptable definition of attitude. This is mainly because attitudes are abstract constructs, not something we can directly observe. We are only able to infer them from behaviour. Another difficulty is that the word ‘attitude’ is used in diverse ways.
Attitude is the learned and enduring predisposition to behave, either favourably or unfavourably, towards something. This something can be an event, a person, an object or classes of such events, persons, or objects, respectively.
*Note: Most contemporary perspectives on attitudes also permit that people can also be conflicted or ambivalent toward an object by simultaneously holding both positive and negative attitudes toward the same object. This means that although enduring, there is no guarantee that attitude will be the same for similar objects or events. Many times people have ambivalent or even conflicting views towards an object. This is the major reason why people behave inconsistently. For someone who likes chocolates, he may at times eat them to satisfy the craving and at other times choose not to eat for health concerns. Most of the times there is an inconsistent behaviour, because the attitude itself is ambivalent.
Attitude is important because it shapes people’s perceptions of the social and physical world and influence overt behaviour. For example, attitude influences friendship and animosity towards others, giving and receiving help, hiring of ethnic minority job candidates, etc. More dramatically, attitudes are at the heart of many violent attacks, including crimes against humanity.
Attitudes change with experiences and knowledge as man is a ‘rational’ animal. The concept of rational choice is based on a mind open to new ideas, fairness and justice. A rigid and inflexible attitude betrays weakness and not strength of character. A rigid or dogmatic attitude is not the same as a strong attitude. A strong attitude may have been formed with knowledge and experience and be grounded in rationality, hitherto oblivious to others.
Difference between Belief and Attitude
Consider these two questions
- Do you think that death penalty is an effective warning?
- How do you feel about death penalty?
While, the first question assesses your beliefs about the death penalty; the second question assesses your attitude towards death penalty.
A belief is a conclusion regarding factual evidence, whereas an attitude is a belief that includes an emotional component as well. Attitudes reflect our feelings towards an issue or person.