Which First -- Attitude or Behavior? It's fitting that my first conffibution in the new "Attitude and Behavior" column addresses the age-old question, which comes first -- attitude or behavior? Actually, the more
practical question is which should be targeted for change first -- attitude or behavior? Education
typically addresses "attitude" or internal and subjective dimensions of people by attempting to "think people into acting differently." In other words, educators present theory, principles, and rationale in an attempt to influence inside aspects of people -- their intention, belief, perception, or attitude. Training programs focus on behavior. Through role-play exercises and behavioral feedback, people practice desired target behaviors. Thus, this approach to change attempts to
"act people into thinking differently." It's presumed that if people act in a certain way on the outside, they
will adjust their "inside" (including intention, belief, perception, and attitude) to be
consistent with their behaviors. The key word is "consistency." The truth of the matter is that both approaches (education and training) work because of our need to be consistent. Thus, whether you address attitude or behavior first
it doesn't matter
f you are successful at influencing your target. I
recommend targeting behavior first because behavior is easier to change on a large scale than
attitude. In fact, psychologists know more about changing behavior than attitude because behavior is easier to measure objectively and reliably than attitude. Therefore, various intervention procedures to influence behaviors in organizational settings have been developed and refined through empirical research.
Sometimes the starting behavior can be simply a verbal statement or commitment, and then more desired behavior (and attitude) can be expected because of the consistency principle.
Let's examine the consistency principle in more depth, and see how this principle works to influence behavior and attitude. Indeed, three change techniques described below follow directly from this principle.
The Consistency Principle
Many psychologists consider the consistency principle a weapon of influence lying deep
within us and directing our actions. It reflects our motivation to be (and unn.u!) consistent. Simply put, when we make a choice or take a stand, we encounter personal and social pressures to perform consistently with our commitment. We obtain this pressure to be consistent from three basic sources: a) society values consistency within people, b) consistent conduct is
beneficial to daily existence, and c) a consistent orientation allows for shortcuts in information processing and decision making. Instead of considering all relevant information in a certain
situation, a person need only remember their commitment or decision and respond consistently.
Public and Voluntary Commitment
When people sign their name to a petition or pledge card they are making a commitment to behave in a certain way. Later, they behave in this way to be consistent with their
commiffnent. Safety professionals can use this variation of the consistency principle to increase safety-related behavior. After a discussion about a particular work procedure, for example, the audience could be asked to make a commitment to perform the desired behavior. What kind
commifinent should be requested? Commitments are most effective (or influential) when they are public, effortful, and perceived as voluntary or not coerced. Thus, it would be more beneficial to have employees make a public rather than private commitment to perform a certain safe behavior. And, it would be better to have them sign their name to a card or public declaration display than to merely raise
their hands. In addition, it is very important for those pledging to follow a certain work practice to believe they made the...