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What are attitudes? How are they formed, measured and changed? What degree of influence do they exert on behavior? What important effects does prejudice have on attitudes, and how is prejudice caused? These are all questions that are central to the study of social psychology and, by reviewing the findings of psychological research into these areas, this essay will attempt to provide a balanced explanation of the topic.
The fundamental question of what attitudes are cannot be answered easily, as many psychologists offer differing definitions. These range from simply describing them as likes and dislikes, to the definition provided by Tiffin and McCormick, in Attitude and Motivation(1971), where they summarize attitudes as being, “a frame of reference that influences the individual’s views or opinions on various topics and situations, and influences their behavior.” It is widely accepted, however, that attitudes include both beliefs and values. Beliefs, although considered to be based on the knowledge gained about the world around us, can vary greatly in their importance and influence, and therefore ibn their resistence to change. For instance, an individual’s belief in God is highly influential, not only on its own but also in its effect on many other beliefs held by the individual, whereas a belief that eating late at night may cause indigestion is far less central and influential in its effect. Beliefs, both major and minor, form the cognitive component of attitu...

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