Attitudes and Opinions

By Stuart Oskamp; P. Wesley Schultz | Go to book overview

12
Attitude-Behavior
Consistency and
Related Issues

Attitude and action are linked in a continuing reciprocal process, each generating the other in an endless chain.—Herbert C. Kelman.

We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.—Abigail Adams, 1774.

What I want is to get done what the people desire to have done, and the question for me is how to find that out exactly.—Abraham Lincoln.

The politician who sways with the polls is not worth his pay.—Richard Nixon.

This chapter takes up several key issues in the study of attitudes and opinions. First we consider two long-standing questions that are still being debated—how are attitudes related to behavior, and how are they related to personality? Next we explore some methodological problems and ethical issues—what differences are there between the findings of laboratory research and field research, and what ethical problems are raised in attitude and opinion research? Finally, extending our examination of attitudes and behavior into the public arena, we look at the relationship of public opinion to public policy.


ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR

The topic of attitude-behavior consistency has been a subject of debate since the early days of social psychology (e.g., LaPiere, 1934), and in the years since whole books have been written on the subject (e.g., Deutscher, 1973; Zanna, Higgins, & Herman, 1982; Canary & Seibold, 1984). In the space available here we will highlight the most important aspects of this issue.

The question of what relationships exist among the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components of attitudes (or between beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral intentions as separate concepts) was discussed in Chapters 5 and 11. Now our attention shifts from the components or aspects of attitudes to the link between attitudes and behavior (that is, overt responses).

Is what we say always consistent with what we do? Obviously not, as Abigail Adams noted in 1774, before the American Revolution, in the quotation at the beginning of this chapter. We can all think of cases of discrepancy between our own words and deeds, just as between the statements and actions of others. Because attitudes are usually measured through a person's verbal report, there is a likelihood that attitudes and actions often may

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