ABSTRACT: In order to accomplish effective attitude change certain elements of the attitude itself must be addressed. An attitude has three components: a mental component, behavioural component and an emotional component. Effective attitude change programs include methods and tools which appeal to these components of the attitude.
According to psychologists Egley and Chaiken (1993) attitudes are a psychological or internal state made known through viewing an entity with approval or disapproval. Attitudes (Larson, 2007) have a cognitive function, an affective (or emotional) function and a behavioural function. That is, attitudes are learned, they can be affected or driven by feelings and they can be indicators of future actions.
Attitude change programs are programs designed to address and remove harmful attitudes and replace them with beneficial attitudes. Social change programs are programs which address attitudes on a societal level. Some examples include cancer screening, drink driving and anti-smoking campaigns. According to Fazio (1989), attitudes are triggered automatically which suggests that attitude change needs to be dealt with in a strategic manner. The cognitive, affective and behavioural functions of an attitude need to be addressed within attitude change programs in order for them to be a success. This essay aims to provide the theoretical basis and research evidence of three key elements required for attitude change and for success in attitude change programs. These three elements are based on the functions of an attitude and include an appeal to an individual’s reasoning and beliefs, an appeal to an individual’s feelings or emotions, and an appeal to an individual’s current and future actions.
The first element or factor of success required for an attitude change program is an appeal to the individual’s reasoning and belief. Attitudes have a cognitive function and individuals develop attitudes based on their experience, learned values and personal thoughts and ideas. Attitude change programs need to appeal to a person’s thinking. Research completed by Schrader (1999) found that attitudes are less likely to change if the information and message presented to influence the individual’s thinking is too complex or ambiguous. If information is presented in this way the individual will dismiss the ideas as unworkable and inappropriate. It can be suggested then that as attitude change programs appeal to a person’s intellect or thinking concerning a particular attitude, it is required that the information is concise, relevant, meaningful and understandable.
For example, the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (2007) implemented a societal attitude change program called the National Skin Cancer Awareness Campaign. The campaign ran successfully from November 2006 until February 2007. The campaign used media releases including television, printed and radio advertisements. The campaign made the information of the risk of skin cancer meaningful and concise as the main header for the awareness was a real life story of an Australian citizen.
According to Manfredo (1992) information presented in an attitude change campaign must also be an argument that is relevant to the individual. The National Skin Cancer Awareness Campaign achieved relevance to the Australian public as it appealed to the summer climate and encouraged Australians in certain steps that were already a practical part of Australian summer living. These included wearing a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses, seeking shade and wearing water proof, SPF30+ sunscreen and reapplying every two hours.
Attitudes have an affective or emotional function. That is, they can be affected and changed according to an individual’s feelings. Often attitude change programs attempt to create a message that will engage a viewer or listener’s emotions. According to Schiffman and Kanuk (1997) an individual allows their attitude towards a particular product or issue to be influenced by socially significant persons or towards causes with which they have amiable feelings. For example, a person may have a passive attitude toward recycling until it is linked with a desirable cause such as saving wildlife. Societal and attitude change programs often use celebrities or experts to endorse their message. This attempts to induce feelings of trust or enthusiasm of a new attitude. Some attitude change programs use an opposite method and induce feelings of fear or insecurity to change an individual or a societal attitude through scare tactics.
An example of an attitude change program that uses scare tactics is the anti-smoking, National Tobacco Campaign implemented by the Commonwealth of Australia (1997). The campaign uses warnings and graphic images on the labels of cigarette packets and commercials on television to attempt to alter the dismissive and avoidant attitudes of smokers to the potential harm they are exposing themselves to by smoking. The cigarette packet labels and television commercials show a range of images of potential cancers and other health risks that are caused by smoking.
Research was done by Roskos-Ewoldson (2004) on the effectiveness of scare tactics in attitude modification programs. The research used an attitude accessibility framework to assess the attitudes towards breast cancer screening and self-breast exams. The research found that high-efficacy messages that told the individual that they could be empowered to do something worthwhile about the problem resulted in a change in attitude. This made the individual more receptive to undergo breast screening and doing self-breast examinations at home. The research found that the use of fear-inducing messages actually decreased the likelihood of a change in attitude, resulting in passivity towards screening and breast exams. It should be taken into account, however, that receptiveness may change according to the group or society as well as the issue that the program is addressing. Either way, the research and theory proposed show, that in order for successful attitude change to take place, a program must address the emotional element that helps to form and adjust attitudes.
Finally, attitudes have a behavioural function. Attitudes affect an individual’s actions and choices. Research done by Downing, Judd and Brauer (1992) suggests that the more one outwardly expresses an attitude the more it will increase in its strength. It can be suggested then that successful attitude change programs address the behavioural function of an attitude and allow the individual to practise the behaviour associated with the newly learned attitude.
The Commonwealth of Australia (2007) has implemented the Healthy Active Australia campaign. This campaign not only changes the attitude of an individual or group but gives them practical steps to implement and express their decisive attitude towards a healthy, active lifestyle. The campaign offers practical advice on healthy eating, overcoming obesity, physical activity and active living for children, teenagers, parents, adults and senior citizens. The campaign has also established government supported activities such as the Around Australia in 40 Days Walking Challenge, the Healthy Active Ambassador Program, a National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, a new Healthy Weight website, the Active After-School Communities program and the Active School Curriculum. A number of resources are also available to allow individuals and groups to put into practise a pro-health attitude. These resources include guidelines and recommendations for various population groups, on physical activity and healthy eating, physical activity guidelines for adults and for children aged five to twelve and twelve to eighteen, as well as various dietary guidelines for different age groups.
According to the theory of reasoned behaviour discussed by Gass and Seiter (2003) a person’s behaviour, is influenced by the person’s intentions of behaviour which are shaped by the individual’s attitude. If an attitude change program aims to be fully successful in addressing the behaviour function of an attitude, first of all it must equip the individual to change their thinking and attitude towards an attitude object. The second step is to equip them to change their intentions of behaviour and then to equip them to form new habits and behaviour to suit the changed attitude. In the example given of the Healthy Active Australian campaign the program offers Australians a chance to not only change their view and attitude toward a healthy lifestyle, but it gives them a variety of resources to implement the necessary behaviour to express the changed attitude.
In conclusion, attitude change is aeffected by three elements. It is affected by the cognitive function of an attitude, the affective function of an attitude, and the behavioural function of an attitude. Successful attitude change programs and campaigns should address these three aspects of attitude and attitude change.
Attitude change programs need to appeal to a person’s thinking and reasoning. They must also present information that is concise and practical as well as appeal to a person’s current knowledge and experience. Attitude change programs or campaigns are required to have relevant information in order to be successful and effective.
Successful attitude change programs should also address the emotional function of the attitude, whether it is through scare tactics or through inducing feelings of confidence and empowerment within the individual. It is important that attitude change initiatives engage the individual in a context that they find meaningful and worthwhile.
Attitude change programs or campaigns also need to equip an individual to effectuate their changed attitude in order to strengthen it. They must provide resources and support so that individuals or groups can effectively express the behaviours associated with their new attitude.
Overall, these three components must be implemented together in order for attitude change to take place and for an effective and successful program to be completed.
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (2007). The National Skin Cancer Awareness Campaign. www.skincancer.gov.au
Commonwealth of Australia (1997). The National Tobacco Campaign. Quit Now www.quitnow.info.au
Commonwealth of Australia (2005). Healthy Active Australia. Healthy Active Australia, www.healthyactive.gov.au
Downing, J. W., Judd, C. M., & Brauer, M. (1992). Effects of repeated expressions on attitude extremity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 17-29
Egley, A. H., & Chaiken, S. (1993). The Psychology of Attitudes. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York.
Fazio, R. H. (1989). On the power and functionality of attitudes: The role of attitude accessibility. In Pratkanis, A. R., Breckler, S. J., & Greenwald, A. G., Attitude Structure and Function. Hillsdale, Erlbaum.
Gass, R. H., & Seiter, J. S., (2003). Persuasion, Social Influence and Compliance Gaining. Pearson Education, United States of America. 2
Larson, C. U. (2007). Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility. Thomson Wadsworth, California.
Manfredo, M. J. (1992). Influencing Human Behaviour: Theory and Applications in Recreation, Tourism, and Natural Resources Management. Sagamore Publishing, Illinois.
Roskos-Ewoldson, D. R. (2004). Fear appeal messages affect accessibility of attitudes toward the threat and adaptive behaviours. Communication Monographs. 49-69
Schiffman, L., & Kanuk L., (1997). Consumer Behaviour. Prentice Hall, New Jersey.