Attitude Formation Theory in Psychology

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  • 0:01 Attitude Formation Theories
  • 1:00 What Is Attitude?
  • 1:19 Three Theories
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nathan Kilgore

Nathan has taught college Psychology, Sociology, English, and Communications and has a master's degree in education.

In psychology, there are three key theories that describe attitude formation. This lesson names the three founders of attitude formation while providing an overview of each theory.

Attitude Formation Theories Defined

Attitude formation theories help us understand how a person's attitude takes shape and why a person might have a particular attitude or how that attitude came to exist. Attitude formation is of particular interest to psychology because attitudes often direct behavior.

There is no single dominant theory on attitude formation. Rather, there are three theories that are used most often to describe attitude formation: functionalism, learning, and cognitive dissonance theories. Attitude formation theories suggest that perhaps we do what benefits us (functionalist theory), or maybe our past experiences have taught us how to act (learning theory), or it might just be an attempt to restore harmony to two opposing truths that are held (cognitive dissonance theory). All attempt to answer the question of where attitudes come from. We will take a look at these theories in this lesson.

What Is Attitude?

Let's quickly define the word attitude. An attitude is the value a person assigns to something or someone. How do you feel about the current president of the United States? What do you think about classical music? These questions will reveal your level of value towards these things, or, your attitude about the president or classical music.

Three Theories

Attitudes are born out of what we know (cognitive), feel (emotions), and do (behavior) about someone or something. The three foundational theories that describe the process of attitude formation are:

Functionalist Theory

Daniel Katz, a functional theorist, suggests that attitudes are formed according to how a particular person or thing meets our needs. To a functionalist, attitudes are shaped based on the personal benefit they offer. For example, one might have a positive attitude about the president because they find his political policies meet their needs. Katz also notes that we form attitudes to support our self-image or existing values. According to the functionalist, an attitude will change when the needs of the individual change.

Learning Theory

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