How Are Attitudes Formed and Maintained?

Positive and negative attitudes are generally formed directly as an outcome of personal experience and observation. Maintaining an attitude involves personal beliefs and feelings, as well as conformity to social norms.

Psychologists describe attitudes as being learned inclinations to assess things in a certain manner. Personal experience and observation greatly contribute to the development of attitudes. Formation of attitudes is also influenced by social roles and social norms, however. Social roles pertain to the ways individuals are expected to behave in specific roles or settings. Social norms form the rules of society in terms of which actions are considered acceptable or desirable.

The formation of attitudes has emotional, cognitive and behavioral components. Emotional components pertain to how a person feels towards a person, object or topic. Cognitive components relate to thoughts and beliefs. Behavioral components reflect how the attitude influences behavior.

Dr. Richard W. Scholl, a professor of the University of Rhode Island, states that attitudes are the “mental folders” where attitude objects (perceptions, beliefs, feelings and expectations about the environments) are stored. Attitudes are maintained in the absence of cognitive dissonance, a state of psychological stress cause by inconsistent thoughts. A person’s later exposure to the same experience and environment that established an attitude is therefore more likely to reinforce the attitude than to change it