An attitude is an expression of favor or disfavor toward a person, place, thing, or event (the attitude object). Prominent psychologist Once described attitudes "the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology."
Definitions of Attitude
An attitude can be defined as a positive or negative evaluation of people, objects, event, activities, ideas, or just about anything in your environment, but there is debate about precise definitions. Eagly and Chaiken, for example, define an attitude "a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor."
Though it is sometimes common to define an attitude as affect toward an object, affect (i.e., discrete emotions or overall arousal) is generally understood to be distinct from attitude as a measure of favorability.
This definition of attitude allows for one's evaluation of an attitude object to vary from extremely negative to extremely positive, but also admits that people can also be conflicted or ambivalent toward an object meaning that they might at different times express both positive and negative attitude toward the same object. This has led to some discussion of whether individual can hold multiple attitudes toward the same object.
Whether attitudes are explicit (i.e., deliberately formed) versus implicit (i.e., subconscious) has been a topic of considerable research. Research on implicit attitudes, which are generally unacknowledged or outside of awareness, uses sophisticated methods involving people's response times to stimuli to show that implicit attitudes exist (perhaps in tandem with explicit attitudes of the same object).
Implicit and explicit attitudes seem to affect people's behavior, though in different ways. They tend not to be strongly associated with each other, although in some cases they are. The relationship between them is poorly understood.
Many measurements and scales are used to examine attitudes. Attitudes can be difficult to measure because measurement is arbitrary, meaning people have to give attitudes a scale to measure it against, and attitudes are ultimately a hypothetical construct that cannot be observed directly.
Following the explicit-implicit dichotomy, attitudes can be examined through direct and indirect measures. Explicit measures tend to rely on self-reports or easily observed behaviors. These tend to involve bipolar scales (e.g., good-bad, favorable-unfavorable, support-oppose, etc.). Explicit measures can also be used by measuring the straightforward attribution of characteristics to nominate groups, such as "I feel that baptists are....?" or "I think that men are...?" Likert scales and other self-reports are also commonly used.
Implicit measures are not consciously directed and are assumed to be automatic, which may make implicit measures more valid and reliable than explicit measures (such as self-reports). For example, people can be motivated such that they find it socially desirable to appear to have certain attitudes. An example of this is that people can hold implicit prejudicial attitudes, but express explicit attitudes that report little prejudice.
Implicit measures help account for these situations and look at attitudes that a person may not be aware of or want to show. Implicit measures therefore usually rely on an indirect measure of attitude. For example, the Implicit Association Test (IAT) examines the strength between the target concept and an attribute element by considering the latency in which a person can examine two response keys when each has two meanings.
With little time to carefully examine what the participant is doing they respond according to internal keys. This priming can show attitudes the person has about a particular object.