- Attitudes are defined as “evaluations of a particular person, behavior, belief, or concept” (Feldman, p. 519). It is said that our behavior is highly influenced by our attitudes toward things; we are often persuaded to think or do certain things based on what influences these attitudes. Feldman (2012) notes that there are many factors that can change our attitudes: first, there is the message source – we put greater stock in things said by people we admire, like role models or celebrities. Secondly, there are the characteristics of the message – the message itself must be of sufficient quality and tone to make you accept it. Finally, there are the characteristics of the target – our own personalities, biases and preferences affect how we receive the message as well (p. 519).
Attitudes and behavior are said to be very consistent – whenever we act, we try our hardest to act based on what our attitudes are. For example, you might not watch violent movies if you believe in pacifism, or vote Democrat in elections if you are a liberal. As thinking creatures, we attempt to act in accordance with our beliefs, which is where this consistency in attitude and behavior comes from (p. 521). As we form our personalities, we also form our attitudes – we have certain principles by which we live and act, and that informs our behavior.
- Social cognition is defined as “the cognitive processes by which people understand and make sense of others and themselves” (Feldman, p. 523). In essence, psychologists attempt to figure out what others think about and what they do, as well as why they do it. The ways in which we think about how we and others fit into a community frames the study of social cognition. When we think about a particular type of person, we have certain characteristics we associate with them, forming assumptions based on what we know of that type of person.
Social cognition also deals heavily with impression formation, which is “the process by which an individual organizes information about another person to form an overall impression of that person” (p. 523). When we meet someone or vice versa, impressions are formed – codes for behavior that tell us what the other person is probably like. This and other aspects of social cognition are useful in that they help people interact with each other in society without a lot of information. The study of social cognition also allows us to understand this process and better understand ourselves. It also gives us the ability to improve upon impression formation and schemas, and understand the causes of our behavior (p. 524).
- In the case of the ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique, compliance is gained by first making a small request of a person, allowing you access to them, and then moving on to bigger and bigger requests (Feldman, p. 532). The first, smaller favor establishes the precedent of the other person agreeing to your requests, which then makes it harder for them to refuse your larger requests since they’ve shown they should agree to them. The small request also creates interest in issues, and the larger requests get the person more invested in those issues.
With the door-in-the-face technique, by contrast, the large request is made right away, often seeming unreasonable or easy to say no to. However, this is soon followed by a smaller request, which is then acquiesced to (p. 532). This technique establishes the comparatively reasonable smaller request as the thing the person wanted to get done anyway; the bigger request was meant to establish guilt in the other person for saying no. By starting with the larger request, the smaller request seems more reasonable by comparison, and it also helps to alleviate feelings of guilt the person feels for saying no the first time. Both techniques are effective in their different ways; the former opens the door for increased requests due to precedent, while the latter effectively guilts the person into compliance by their initial refusal of the first request.
- There are many ways in which prejudice and discrimination can be reduced. First, many prejudices come from stereotypes, which are “a set of generalized beliefs and expectations about a particular group and its members” (Feldman, p. 537). With these stereotypes, prejudiced people can find simple negative attributes to attach to whole groups of people, therefore distancing themselves further and making them easier to hate. If these stereotypes are openly combated through discussion, greater outreach and media portrayals of minorities and those discriminated against, it can help to humanize them and remove that distance. This is accomplished by increasing contact between stereotype holders and the targets of stereotyping, as well as “making values and norms against prejudice more conspicuous” (p. 539). Pointing out the evils of prejudiced statements help to make them more abnormal and less tolerated by society.
Another way in which prejudice and discrimination can be fought is providing further information about those who are stereotyped. Education about positive characteristics of those who are discriminated against will diminish that Othering that makes it so easy for them to be discriminated against (p. 540). When someone holds a stereotype against someone, clarification on what that behavior actually is can eliminate the negative connotation and promote true understanding.
- Cognitive dissonance occurs when people behave in a way that conflicts directly with their attitudes or beliefs. This phenomenon is defined as “the conflict that occurs when a person holds two contradictory attitudes or thoughts (referred to as cognitions)” (Feldman, p. 522). This can happen for a number of reasons; people may not be aware of the full consequences of their behavior, or could be otherwise coerced into betraying those attitudes for some other intrinsic reward. For example, paying someone to vote Republican when they are Democrat would set off that kind of cognitive dissonance in someone. While they believe in the Democratic principles they want to vote for, they may also want the money they would get for violating their principles. It can be said that a similar thing happens when an artist like a musician or singer “sells out” and goes mainstream; they might be sacrificing their own creativity and art for the sake of financial security. They want both, but they must make a choice about what they want the most. There may also be justifications for that behavior that they use to try and settle the cognitive dissonance, but they must simply come to peace with those contradictions. Reducing the dissonance involves modifying cognitions, changing their perceived importance, adding other cognitions, or denying the connection between the conflicting cognitions (p. 522).
Feldman, (2011). Essentials of Understanding Psychology (9th Edition). McGraw-Hill.