Theories Of Behaviour-Attitude Influence
A relaxed attitude lengthens a man's life. ~ Proverbs 14:30
Several theories have been offered to explain how and why one's behaviour can, seemingly retroactively, influence one's attitudes. These include self-presentation theory, self-perception theory, and self-justification theory.
1. Self-Presentation Theory
One of the simplest explanations for why our attitudes match our behaviour is self-presentation theory. We present ourselves to others and are concerned with their impressions of us. We know that others' opinions of us will affect our lives, including career opportunities(eg. whether we will be hired) and social involvements(eg. whether another person will find us attractive).
One quality we know is valued in our society is consistency. People like people who behave in a consistent, reliable, predictable manner. Once we have acted a particular way, then, it is desirable to insist that we have done so on purpose. Thus it is socially desirable to form attitudes that reflect our behaviours.
2. Self-Perception Theory
Self-perception involves observing our own behaviour and making inferences about our true underlying motivations. This explains how behaviour might influence attitudes: once we have done something, we consider our action and infer that we must have an attitude in favour of that action. For example, why did you purchase a particular brand of shampoo? By inference, you must conclude that you prefer that brand to others, and will make the same kind of purchase again.
3. Self-Justification Theory
Attitude-behaviour consistency is not only socially desirable, it is also psychologically comfortable. Consistency theories argue that cognitive elements like behaviours and attitudes must be in harmony for people to feel comfortable with themselves. Disharmony eg. a mismatch between a behaviour and one's attitude, results in discomfort, and motivates one to restore harmony to relieve the tension.
When one has done something that does not match a previously stated attitude, one experiences disharmony and desires to restore consistency again. Since the behaviour itself is already done and cannot be changed, an obvious option for restoring harmony is to change one's old attitude to match the new behaviour. This is the process of self-justification.
For example, a woman has always been outspoken about the need for gun control and the dangers of handgun ownership. One day a house in her neighbourhood is burglarized, and the next day she herself purchases a handgun "for self-protection". When her friends challenge her about this apparent inconsistency, she justifies her behaviour by changing her attitude. She now insists that she still favours keeping guns out of criminals' hands, but not out of everyone's hands. She has changed her attitude to realign it with her most recent behaviour, in order to justify her behaviour to herself and others.