Structure and Functions
of Attitudes and Beliefs
My attitude is my greatest asset. As long as a person has a positive attitude, he can always make it.—Glenn Turner, millionaire supersalesman.
If a man would register all his opinions upon love, politics, religion, and learning, what a bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions would appear at last.—Jonathan Swift.
Belief in the general credibility of our senses is the most central belief of all; nearly all of our other beliefs rest upon it, and to lose our faith in it is to lose our sanity.—Daryl J. Bern.
What do attitudes and opinions do for the person who holds them? Some people feel that their favorite football team is the best in the country; others are so negative toward racial minorities that much of their identity is based on their prejudiced attitudes. Do the attitudes that you hold help you to live your daily life, to fulfill your psychological needs, and to get along effectively in your world? Social scientists have traditionally answered these questions with a resounding “Yes. ” Your attitudes and opinions may not make you wealthy, as the above quotation from a supersalesman suggests, but they probably do help to make you healthy and wise. Let us take a closer look at the functions of attitudes.
One of the first theorists to propose a functional view of attitudes was Daniel Katz (1960), and more recent theorists have largely agreed with his classification of types of attitude functions (cf. Eagly & Chaiken, 1998). Katz suggested that there are four major functions that attitudes perform:
1. Understanding. Many attitudes help us to understand our world and to make sense of occurrences around us. They provide consistency and clarity in our explanation and interpretation of events. This has also been called the object appraisal or the knowledge function of attitudes, but the latter term does not imply that attitudes provide a factually truthful picture of the world—merely one that is meaningful and understandable to the particular individual who holds them. That is, attitudes provide a frame of reference for understanding incoming information or new events. For one person, scandals publicized during the last U. S. presidential administration might be understood in reference to an attitude that “politicians are no damn good. ” Another person might relate the same facts to the belief that “Power tends to corrupt. ” In each case the person's beliefs or attitudes