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Attitudes are an important topic of study for social psychologists. In this lesson, we define attitudes and discuss their three components as illustrated by the ABC Model: affective, behavioral and cognitive.

Attitudes and the ABC Model

Do you believe that God exists? What’s your opinion on politics? What are your favorite pizza toppings? These questions may be seemingly unrelated, but it’s likely you have strong opinions about all three of these topics.

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Developing opinions and forming likes and dislikes about everything around us are part of our daily lives. These attitudes affect the way we live and the choices we make.Attitudes can be defined as evaluations of ideas, events, objects, or people. Attitudes are generally positive or negative, but they can also be uncertain at times. For example, sometimes we have mixed feelings about a particular issue or person.

Regardless, attitudes are an important topic of study for social psychologists because they help determine what we do – what we eat, how we vote, what we do with our free time, and so on.Every attitude has three components that are represented in what is called the ABC model of attitudes: A for affective, B for behavioral, and C for cognitive. Although every attitude has these three components, any particular attitude can be based on one component more than another.

In other words, each component can also be the answer to the question: where does an attitude come from? There are affectively-based attitudes, behaviorally-based attitudes, and cognitively-based attitudes. Let’s take a closer look at some examples.

Affective Component

The snake is an attitude object eliciting fear in some individuals.
ophidiophobia (a phobia of snakes). A snake is an attitude object. Whenever Alice is exposed to a snake – whether she sees one or thinks about one – she feels extreme anxiety and fear. This is only one component of this specific attitude, though; we will discuss the other two components a little later in this lesson.

Political attitudes are typically affectively-based.
Attitudes based on facts, such as computer speed, are cognitively-based.
Cognitively Based Attitude

An attitude that is constructed primarily through facts instead of emotions or observations of our behavior is a cognitively-based attitude.

For example, what is your attitude towards your computer? It’s likely based on facts and figures, such as how fast it is and what programs you have installed. Although this may result in an emotion (such as frustration), your attitude isn’t based on emotion – it’s based on your thoughts of the properties of the object.

Lesson Summary

In summary, attitudes can be defined as evaluations of ideas, events, objects, or people. They are an important topic of study for social psychologists because they affect the way we live and the choices we make. Every attitude has three components that are represented in what is called the ABC model of attitudes: A for affective, B for behavioral, and C for cognitive.

The affective component refers to the emotional reaction one has toward an attitude object. For example, ‘I feel scared when I think about or see a snake.’ The behavioral component refers to the way one behaves when exposed to an attitude object. For example, ‘I avoid snakes and scream if I see one.

‘ The cognitive component refers to the thoughts and beliefs one has about an attitude object. For example, ‘I think snakes are gross and dangerous.’Although every attitude has these three components, any particular attitude can be based more on one component than another. In other words, each can also be the answer to the question: where does an attitude come from? An affectively-based attitude stems from one’s emotions and values.

A behaviorally-based attitude stems from one’s observations of one’s own behavior. A cognitively-based attitude stems from one’s thoughts about the properties of an object.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain each component of the ABC model of attitudes: affective, behavioral and cognitive
  • Describe how attitudes can result from an interplay of all three components
  • Summarize how each component is developed

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