The ABC Model of Attitudes and Prejudice

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  • 0:02 Attitudes
  • 0:48 The ABC Model
  • 2:16 Predicting Behavior
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How are attitudes formed? And what's the relationship between attitudes and behavior? In this lesson, we'll examine the ABC Model of attitudes, how it relates to prejudice and behaviors, and how behaviors are linked to beliefs and feelings.


Milly is from Seattle, and she has always lived her life in the Pacific Northwest. She has friends from all over and gets along with most people.

But there is one group of people that bugs Milly. She doesn't like people with Southern accents. She works with a guy who is from Georgia and has a deep Southern accent, and Milly just can't be friends with him.

A person's attitude is the way that he or she feels, thinks, or behaves about something or someone. Attitudes can be positive, like the fact that Milly likes people who eat healthy, or they can be negative, like the way she feels about Southern accents.

Let's look closer at the way that people's attitudes about others are formed and how attitudes can shape a person's behavior.

The ABC Model

Milly's attitude towards people with Southern accents is a negative one. But where does that attitude come from?

According to the ABC Model, attitudes have three components.

A is for 'affect,' which is a psychology term meaning 'emotion.' How a person feels about a person based on their membership in a group is prejudice. For example, Milly doesn't like her coworker because he has a Southern accent. Her affect about people with Southern accents is negative: she doesn't like them. She doesn't like her coworker just because he has a Southern accent, which is prejudice.

B is for 'behavior,' which includes actions that a person takes. Taking action against a person due to their membership in a group is called discrimination. For example, Milly refuses to be friends with her coworker because he has a Southern accent. Her behavior (refusing to be friends) is against her coworker based on the fact that he's from the South, so she is discriminating against him.

Finally, C is for 'cognition,' which is a psychology term for thought processes. A belief about a group of people is called a stereotype. For example, Milly thinks that people with Southern accents are stupid and racist. While this isn't true of all people with Southern accents, her belief (or cognition) about people from the South is a stereotype of them.

Predicting Behavior

For Milly, her affect and cognition are in line with her behavior. That is, she believes that Southern people are stupid and racist, and she doesn't like them, so she refuses to be friends with them. That's all relatively straightforward.

But things aren't always so simple. In a famous study in 1934, Richard LaPiere traveled across the United States with a Chinese couple. Back then, there were a lot of negative attitudes about Asians and Asian-Americans, including many stereotypes and lots of prejudice. LaPiere and the Chinese couple went to hundreds of restaurants and hotels, all across the country. Only one place turned them away, and in general, they were treated nicely.

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