MCAT Content / Attitudes / The Link Between Attitudes And Behavior

The Link Between Attitudes and Behavior

Topic: Attitudes

Attitudes can positively or negatively affect a person’s behavior, regardless of whether the individual is aware of the effects.

Attitudes can positively or negatively affect a person’s behavior. A person may not always be aware of his or her attitude or the effect it is having on behavior. For example, a person who has positive attitudes towards work and co-workers (such as contentment, friendliness, etc.) can positively influence those around them. These positive attitudes are usually manifested in a person’s behavior; people with a good attitude are active and productive and do what they can to improve the mood of those around them. In much the same way, a person who displays negative attitudes (such as discontentment, boredom, etc.), will behave accordingly. People with these types of attitudes may likewise affect those around them and behave in a manner that reduces efficiency and effectiveness.

Behavior can likewise influence attitude. The foot-in-the-door phenomenon, for example, occurs when a person is convinced to take a small step towards a larger goal, as that will likely lead to larger steps towards the same goal later. Another example is the role-playing effect, where people are assigned a role and told to behave in a certain way. This was evident in the work of Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment where assignees as prisoners followed the role and adopted the attitude of being hopeless and helpless.

Attitude and behavior interact differently based upon the attitude in question. Understanding different types of attitudes and their likely implications are useful in predicting how individuals’ attitudes may govern their behavior. Daniel Katz uses four attitude classifications:

1. Utilitarian: Utilitarian refers to an individual’s attitude as derived from self or community interest. An example could be getting a raise. As a raise means more disposable income, employees will have a positive attitude about getting a raise, which may positively affect their behavior in some circumstances.
2. Knowledge: Logic, or rationalizing, is another means by which people form attitudes. When an organization appeals to people’s logic and explains why it is assigning tasks or pursuing a strategy, it can generate a more positive disposition towards that task or strategy (and vice versa, if the employee does not recognize why a task is logical).
3. Ego-defensive: People have a tendency to use attitudes to protect their ego, resulting in a common negative attitude. If a manager criticizes employees’ work without offering suggestions for improvement, employees may form a negative attitude and subsequently dismiss the manager as foolish in an effort to defend their work. Managers must, therefore, carefully manage criticism and offer solutions, not simply identify problems.
4. Value-expressive: People develop central values over time. These values are not always explicit or simple. Managers should always be aware of what is important to their employees from a values perspective (that is, what do they stand for? why do they do what they do?)—having such awareness can allow management to align organizational vision with individual values, thereby generating passion among the workforce.

Attitudes can be infectious and can influence the behavior of those around them. Organizations must, therefore, recognize that it is possible to influence a person’s attitude and, in turn, his or her behavior. A positive environment, member satisfaction, a reward system, and a code of conduct can all help reinforce specific behaviors.

Cognitive dissonance is a good example of where behaviors and attitudes overlap. Cognitive dissonance describes the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.


Practice Questions 


MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Official Guide P/S Section Passage 1 Question 2

Official Guide P/S Section Passage 1 Question 4

Section Bank P/S Section Passage 6 Question 45

Section Bank P/S Section Question 84

Sample Test P/S Section Passage 3 Question 13

Key Points

• Attitudes are infectious and can affect the people that are near the person exhibiting a given attitude, which in turn can influence their behavior as well.

• Understanding different types of attitudes and their likely implications are useful in predicting how individuals’ attitudes influence their behavior.

• Daniel Katz identifies four categories of attitudes: utilitarian, knowledge, ego-defensive and value -expressive.

• Organizations can influence an employee’s attitudes and behavior by using different management strategies and by creating strong organizational environments.

• As people are affected in different ways by varying influences, an organization may want to implement multiple strategies.

• Cognitive dissonance takes place when one’s actions and beliefs do not fit together, usually resulting in a change of behavior or beliefs to relieve the dissonance.

Key Terms

Behavior change: any transformation or modification of human habits or patterns of conduct

Attitude: a positive or negative evaluation of people, objects, events, or ideas in one’s environment

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