Which comes first? Behavior or belief? Thought or action? Character or behavior?

ATTITUDES are beliefs and feelings that can influence our reactions.

This does not always mean that a reported attitude (I care about the environment) will be accompanied by an observable action (I recycled my old newspapers).

Also, many attitudes are held unconsciously. If an attitude can be made conscious it might change and so might the behavior associated with it.

Attitudes influence behavior if 1) Other influences are minimal (i.e. changing our actions to go against our attitude in order to do as others do), 2) IF the attitude specifically relates to the behavior (less general and more specific), and 3) If the attitude is a very strong one because it is attached to a defining life experience (i.e. So and so hates all people who are 5 feet tall because so and so's father was murdered by someone 5 feet tall).


Can a role taken on in life influence our attitudes? Can a graduate student who has been complaining about heavy study loads suddenly begin assigning heavy loads when he or she is appointed as a teacher?

Can action and a situation change our attitudes and overall behavior in surprising ways?

PHILIP ZIMBARDO's study of an experiment in a prison indicates that the answer to this question is YES.


DISCUSSION: 1) How did the unreal or artificial roles assigned to the subjects in the Zimbardo experiment become real...and how did this shape their attitudes and behaviors? 2) How might we improve our prison system based on this knowledge?

Saying Becomes Believing

Thomas Jefferson warned in 1785 that telling one's first lie leads to a second lie and can then lead to a life in which lying is habitual. Experiments reveal that frequent bending of the truth may actually involve us believing in the lies we tell. The fact that we verbalize a situation makes it appear plausible and then we see the image of the situation and may begin consider it a reality.

We may even remember a scene in the past and lies we told as a coherent reality that was truth. Once an image is 'altered' it can become remembered in its altered form.

The Foot in the Door Phenomenon

The attitude and actions of people can be altered if the input provided them is done in stages. (i.e. asking a person a small favor gets 'your foot in the door' and makes them more likely to accord you a larger favor later on).

Low-ball technique: start with an implied promise and then begin changing the terms to your advantage.

So before agreeing to a small request one should wonder about the larger requests that may follow.

Can a person be gradually corrupted through small incremental changes in attitude and behavior? Yes.

People who are coaxed into performing an act they may not normally perform will tend to be more committed to it than if they had been forced to do it. Gradual and continual coaxing can alter the attitudes of another. This is noticeable in prison camps where guards are made to behave cruelly and feel justified doing so, although they may have started off being very kind people.

Mild prohibitions seem to have more of an effect in preventing a certain behavior than do strong prohibitions. See the experiment on page 86.

Interracial Behavior and Attitudes

If evil action increases evil attitudes and moral action increases moral attitudes, then would we not be wise to change social policies (action control) and wait for attidues to catch up?

Morality can be legislated and moral attitude will follow from habituated moral action. The rendering illegal of hate writings and racial discrimination has had a profound effect on attitudes towards conflict and race. See research on page 87.

Moreover, it would seem that positive behavior towards someone increases one's liking of the other. The helper will often end up liking the helpee more as the helping relationship continues.

Benjamin Franklin's experiment with gaining the liking of 87.


Brainwashing is the most powerful influencing tool available. It consists of gradually increasing influence on the other until the other has come to adopt the thoughts, emotions and acts we wish the other to possess.

Prisons who have been brainwashed by their keepers have been done so through a gradual process that rewards the victim for adopting what is expected of him.


Cognitive dissonance theory (Leon Festinger 1957) explains that we feel tension (dissonance) when two possible psychological states or attitudes are inconsistent....we adjust our thinking in order to diminish this discomfort. This explains why sometimes attitudes and behaviors can be different from one another.

Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we alter attitudes (or beliefs) to remain consistent with our actions. This is a form of self-justification through the removal of disturbing contradictions.

Self-perception theory (Daryl Ben 1972) When our attitudes are not clear to us we observe our actions and then define attitudes that coincide with the actions.

So what a person does or says can be very self-revealing and indicate the processes of self-justification he or she is experiencing.

DISCUSSION: How might we explain the phenomenon of Hitler's rise to power and his considerable success in dominating a nation if we use all the above definitions?


How do people form impressions and misimpressions? Clinical researchers are also vulnerable to forming wrong impressions.

Errors in perception occur in the clinical situation also.





Human institution is not more reliable than statistical data. Repeatedly statistical data contradicts clinical intuition.

DISCUSSION: HOW may we guard against the above dangers?