Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior

5.39  ·  9,457 ratings  ·  192 reviews
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understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior

Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior by Icek Ajzen

3.5 stars? I don’t have professional training in polling / surveys or in social psychology, so this book is my first real entry into that field. The authors do a good job of laying out their theory in plain English, and comparing it to previous methods of studying public attitudes, which they point out often used sprawling definitions that didn’t offer much in the way of parsimony or predictive value.

The authors construct a chain linking behavior to an individuals intention to carry out that behavior, which in turn is the product of both individual attitudes towards the behavior (along a bipolar good/bad scale) and the individual’s perception of social norms (views of parents, job, etc); that combination of individual attitude and social norm is further the product of beliefs about the behavior and others view of the individual were they to perform the behavior.

The book acknowledges that while measurements of intention to carry out a behavior may be the best apparent predictor of actual behavior (at least in the aggregate, and when determined at a level of specificity matching the behavior in question), they are not in fact a perfect predictor of behavior — intentions may change on the basis of new information and accompanying changes in beliefs, and other factors may prevent an individual from acting on their intentions. This disconnect between intention and behavior varies with the activity in question, so a survey of voter intentions the day (or week, or month) before an election will not necessarily fully predict the outcome, and other more contested behaviors may be even harder to survey accurately. Having conceded this point, though, the authors generally breeze past it in the rest of their case studies — I would’ve liked much more focus on this issue throughout, since at the end of the day it is the behavior that we are really trying to divine from these surveys.

The most significant aspect of the argument here is the emphasis that surveying opinions on a target is emphatically not the same thing as surveying opinions a behavior related to that target — so someone who responds to a survey that they have a favorable view of the Taliban would not necessarily be planning to donate money to the Taliban within the next month, for example. This also applies to programs that attempt to change attitudes and by extension behavior, which the authors argue must be aimed at actual behaviors instead of a general target to have any chance at being effective at influencing behavior. The proliferation of poorly thought through “CVE” programming currently en vogue could probably stand to revisit this point more regularly.

This is well and good, but there are still some gaps in the book’s proposed theory and methodology. There’s no discussion of social desirability bias skewing survey responses in a way that obscures actual beliefs and intentions — an issue that might be of particular relevance when trying to ascertain intentions and attitudes around semi-clandestine activities, or activities that might expose the respondent to risk of coercion, social retribution, or violence. I noted that in many of the book’s cases, respondents seemed to weight their personal attitudes more heavily than those of their social normative referents as factors in shaping their intentions, and I wondered to what degree this holds across social systems or might be an artifact of people overstating their own independent agency. (My own analytical bias, at least, is to attribute a much more important role to institutions and organizations in shaping individual attitudes and behaviors.)

Again, I’m just entering into this topic so will have to read more broadly before I really have a handle on some of the methodology questions; this was a helpful start, if not entirely convincing on all points.
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Social Thinking: Crash Course Psychology #37

Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior / Edition 1

Core text in attitude courses. Explains "theory and reasoned action" model and then applies the model to various cases. Please choose whether or not you want other users to be able to see on your profile that this library is a favorite of yours. Finding libraries that hold this item You may have already requested this item. Please select Ok if you would like to proceed with this request anyway.

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Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior

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  1. The top Business and Leadership books of last year picked by Amazon Book Review Editor, Chris Schluep. This item:Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior by Icek Ajzen Paperback $ Belief, Attitude, Intention and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory.

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