This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
Attitudes refer to our summary evaluations of people, groups, ideas, and other objects, indicating whether we like or dislike them. The study of attitudes takes a central position in social psychology. Since attitudes were described as the most distinctive and indispensable concept in social psychology more than 80 years ago, decades of extensive research have studied attitudes. This research has revealed how attitudes shape our perceptions and behavior.
One of the key aspects of attitudes is their affective, cognitive, and behavioral content. That is, an attitude may associate an attitude object with affective or emotional reactions, cognitions or knowledge, beliefs, and thoughts, and intentions or past actions. The attitude itself may also have a simple (e.g., positive or negative) structure or a more conflicted, ambivalent (e.g., simultaneously positive and negative) structure, and it may serve different psychological functions (e.g., simplification of knowledge, value expression). In more recent decades, scientists have focused on developing diverse techniques to measure attitudes. On the whole, research has shown that attitudes are moderately predictive of future behavior and that the strength of this link depends on diverse factors, such as how strongly the attitude is held, individuals’ personality, and the environmental context. Overall, the long history of research on attitudes has shown considerable theoretical and practical relevance.