Social Psychologists Interested In Attitudesit

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Why Are Social Psychologists Interested In Attitudes

Why Are Social Psychologists Interested In Attitudes


The concept of attitude occupies a very favored position in social psychology. Psychologists as well informed as G. Allport (1) and G. Murphy (9) consider it the central concept in the field; various textbooks have indicated its usefulness in the advance of the science; and the literature revolving around "attitudes" has grown in the past 20 years to voluminous proportions. Yet the concept, despite its key position, is marked by considerable confusion.

Diversity Of Definitions

Examination of the various definitions and discussions of attitude offered by social psychologists, for example, reveals that there is an amazing diversity of conceptions of what the term denotes. The range of these views can be illustrated by noting the following dissimilar definitions of attitude:

Attitudes in the narrow and more specific sense are essentially motor sets of the organism toward some specific or general stimulus. They rest upon innate stimulus-response patterns as these have become modified, elaborated, and integrated through learning in the social world. . . . Attitudes do not exist without reference to value meanings. And meanings are related to situations of all sorts around which we have constructed our habits and built up a series of images (16).

Divergent Theoretical Functions Of The Concept

To illustrate what is meant by this contention, one can point to the different fashions in which the concept has been utilized by such writers as Thomas (13), Park (10), Dewey (6), and Bain (3). Thomas' concept of attitude afforded him the subjective factor with which--together with the objective factor (value)--he sought to account for human social behavior. Thomas was looking for causal explanation and believed it could not' be found without taking into account both objective and subjective factors. The "attitude" supplied the necessary subjective tool which enabled him to seek laws of social behavior. On the other hand Park used the attitude for a different purpose. He sought the ultimate social forces within each individual which would account for all human behavior. He employed attitudes as these ultimate units of analysis. In contrast, Dewey built his social psychological scheme for the analysis of human behavior upon three analytic tools: impulse, attitude, and thought. Attitude organizes impulse in this scheme, and must be taken into account in order to understand human behavior; one must realize the importance of the reaction of attitude to impulse and thought. Bain's use of the attitude differs strikingly from each of the above. He wrote as a strict behaviorist, holding that subjective states are illusions and that their use in analysis of behavior is harmful to the advance of social science. Hence Bain employed the attitude to refer to a particular kind of overt behavior, for it is overt behavior which is the only legitimate phenomenon for research study.

Empirically Ungrounded Character Of Attitude Theory

If this is so it suggests that definitions of the attitude are not generally grounded upon nor derived from empirical ...
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