3.4 Functions Of Attitude

Functions of attitude

Attitudes serve four major functions for the individual:

  • The adjustments function,
  • The ego defensive function,
  • The value expressive function
  • The knowledge function.

Ultimately these functions serve people’s need to protect and enhance the image they hold of themselves. In more general terms, these functions are the motivational bases which shape and reinforce positive attitudes toward goal objects perceived as need satisfying and / or negative attitudes toward other objects perceived as punishing or threatening.

Adjustment Function

The adjustment function directs people toward pleasurable or rewarding objects and away from unpleasant, undesirable ones. It serves the utilitarian concept of maximizing reward and minimizing punishment. Thus, the attitudes of consumers depend to a large degree on their perceptions of what is needed satisfying and what is punishing. Because consumers perceive products, services and stores as providing need satisfying or unsatisfying experiences we should expect their attitudes toward these object to vary in relation to the experiences that have occurred.

Ego Defensive Function

 Attitudes firmed to protect the ego or self image from threats help fulfill the ego defensive function. Actually many outward expressions of such attitudes reflect the opposite of what the person perceives him to be. For example a consumer who has made a poor purchase decision or a poor investment may staunchly defend the decision as being correct at the time or as being the result of poor advice from another person. Such ego defensive attitude helps us to protect out self image and often we are unaware of them. This function involves psychoanalytic principles where people use defense mechanisms to protect themselves from psychological harm. Mechanisms include:

Denial: Denial, is used for a psychological defense mechanism postulated by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. An individual that exhibits such behavior is described as a denialist or true believer. Denial also could mean denying the happening of an event or the reliability of information, which can lead to a feeling of aloofness and to the ignoring of possibly beneficial information.

 Repression: Psychological repression, or simply repression, is the psychological attempt made by an individual to their characterists to direct one’s own desires and impulses toward pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one’s consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious. In psychoanalytic theory repression plays a major role in many mental illnesses, and in the psyche of the average person.Repression, ‘a key concept of psychoanalysis, is a defense mechanism, but it pre-exists the ego, e.g., ‘Primal Repression’. It ensures that what is unacceptable to the conscious mind, which would arouse anxiety if recalled, is prevented from entering into it’; and is generally accepted as such by psychoanalytic psychologists.

 Projection:  Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually intolerant may constantly accuse other people of being intolerant. It incorporates blame shifting.  According to some research, the projection of one’s unconscious qualities onto others is a common process in everyday life.

Rationalization: In psychology and logic, rationalization or rationalisation (also known as making excuses)  is a defense mechanism in which controversial behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable—or even admirable and superior—by plausible means. It is also an informal fallacy of reasoning.

Rationalization happens in two steps:  

  • A decision, action, judgement is made for a given reason, or no (known) reason at all.
  • A rationalization is performed, constructing a seemingly good or logical reason, as an attempt to justify the act after the fact (for oneself or others).

Rationalization encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly unconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt or shame). People rationalize for various reasons—sometimes when we think we know ourselves better than we do. Rationalization may differentiate the original deterministic explanation of the behavior or feeling in question.

Value expression function  

Whereas ego defensive attitudes are formed to protect a person’s self image, value expressive attitudes enable the expression of the person’s centrally held values. Therefore consumers adopt certain attitudes in an effort to translate their values into something more tangible and easily expressed . Thus, a conservative person might develop an unfavorable attitude toward bright clothing and instead be attracted toward dark, pin striped suits.

Marketers should develop an understanding of what values consumers wish to express about themselves and they should design products and promotional campaigns to allow these self expressions. Not all products lend themselves to this form of market segmentation however. Those with the greatest potential for value expressive segmentation are ones with high social visibility. Cross pens, Saks Fifth Avenue clothes. Ferrari automobiles and Bang & Children stereo systems are examples.


Knowledge function

 Humans have a need for a structured and orderly world, and therefore they seek consistency stability definition and understanding. Out of this need develops attitudes toward acquiring knowledge. In addition, the need to know tends to be specific. Therefore an individual who does not play golf, nor wish to learn the sport is unlikely to seek knowledge or an understanding of the game. This will influence the amount of information search devoted to this topic. Thus, out of our need to know come attitudes about what we believe we need or do not need to understand.

In addition attitudes enable consumers to simplify the complexity of the real world. That is, as was pointed out in the chapter information processing, the real world is too complex for us to cope with so we develop mechanisms to simplify situations. We saw that this involves sensory thresholds and selective attention and it also involves attitudes. Attitudes allow us to categorize or group objects as a way of knowing about them. Thus, when a new object is experienced we attempt to categorize it into a group which we know something about. In this way the object can share the reactions we have for other objects in the same category. This is efficient because we do not have to spend much effort reacting to each new object as a completely unique situation. Consequently we often find consumers reacting in similar ways to ads for going out of business sales limited time offers American made goods etc. Of course there is some risk of error in not looking at the unique aspects or new information about objects but for better or worse, our attitudes have influenced how we feel and react to new examples of these situations.

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