One of the Central Questions to Be Addressed in Social Psychology Is the Nature of the Relationship Between Attitudes and Behaviour. Research Has Demonstrated That This Relationship Is Far from Simple. Discuss.

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The term ‘attitude’ has been referred to as social psychology’s most indispensable concept, and the study of attitudes has dominated social psychology since the 1920s (Allport, 1935, p. 798; McGuire, 1986). In the early 19th century, attitude research was considered to be of such fundamental importance to social psychology that both were thought to be one and the same, and each to be the definition of the other (Watson, 1930; Hogg & Vaughan, 2011, p. 148). While social psychologists’ interest in attitude research may be seen to have somewhat waned over recent decades, attitudes are again the focus of much attention for social psychologists, with a recent review going so far as to define attitudes as “the crown jewel of social psychology” (Crano & Prislin, 2006, p. 360). An attitude has been defined as “a positive or negative evaluation towards a stimulus, such as a person, object, action, or concept” (Tesser and Schaffer, 1990), and much of our social thinking has been said to involve the attitudes that we hold towards external stimuli (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011, p. 148). Attitudes enable us to define our identity, react to events, and influence how we judge other people and make sense of our relationships with other people in everyday life. Common sense allows us to see the effect that attitudes have on society; people’s views on politics, racial issues, education and even on the latest up and coming pop star, influence and guide the development of affairs all over the world. As attitudes have sometimes also been defined as behaviour patterns (LaPiere, 1934), common sense might also lead us to believe that people’s attitudes tend to dictate their behaviour, or that there might be a strong link between the attitudes a person holds and the behaviour they indulge in, but numerous scientific studies and surveys have found the link between attitudes and behaviour to be less clear-cut, and somewhat controversial (Ajzen, 2001; Hogg & Vaughan, 2011, p. 148).

A classical study of ethnic attitudes by the sociologist Richard LaPiere (1934) provided an early challenge to the validity of the concept of attitude as a predictor for behaviour. LaPiere spent two years traveling the United States by car with a couple of Chinese ethnicity. During that time they visited 251 hotels and restaurants and were turned away only once. At the conclusion of their travels LaPiere posted a survey to all of the businesses they visited with the question, "Will you accept members of the Chinese race in your establishment?” Of the 128 establishments that responded, only 1% stated that they would accept them, a direct contradiction to the way they had actually behaved. While the validity of LaPiere’s study may be called into question due to its unscientific design, it is by no means the only piece of research which questions the common assumption that our attitudes determine our actions. Several other studies have used more sophisticated methods to find a similar discrepancy between people’s attitudes and their actual behaviour. One study found that adolescent’s attitudes towards smoking were relatively unimportant predictors of future intention to smoke, when compared to the influence of subject norms, or current or previous experiences of smoking (Eiser, et al, 1989). Similarly, Christina Salmivalli and Marinus Voeten (2010) examined the connections between attitudes and student behaviour in bullying situations and found that while attitudes did predict behaviour at the student level in most cases, these effects were moderate after controlling for gender. The attitude concept reached an all-time low during the 1970s, with the publication of Allan Wicker’s literature review, which indicated that only 9percent of the variability in a behaviour is accounted for by an attitude and concluded that “taken as a whole, these studies suggest that it is considerably more likely that attitudes will be unrelated or only slightly related to overt behaviours than that...
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