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Attitude Measurement – Attitude towards an object or behavior? Review of the article by David Trafimow – Dr. Shyam Prasad

14th June 2024

Note to the readers: This article is meant for beginners/early researchers or students. During my teaching, I noted that many perceive measuring attitude as a routine affair and one need not bother much about it. To remove this myth that attitude measurement is easy, I picked an article titled ‘Attitude Measurement’ by David Trafimow, published in the Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, and summarized in a manner suitable for beginners.

This is a continuation of my earlier article titled, “Attitude Measurement – Reliability and Validity: Review of article by David Trafimow.” 


To predict and influence people’s behaviors, researchers strive to measure the attitudes of the people.  However, the researcher should clarify several questions before measuring attitude. They are

  1. Reliability and Validity of measurement,
  2. Whether attitude toward an object or behaviour
  3. Attitude toward a single behaviour or repeated behaviour and
  4. Can this variable (attitude) be distinguished from other variables?

In the earlier part (“Attitude Measurement – Reliability and Validity: Review of article by David Trafimow.”) we discussed the reliability and validity of measurement. In this article, we will delve into other aspects.

Attitude towards Objects or Behaviors

      In the earlier part, we were introduced to the principle of correspondence. According to that principle, behaviors have four components: action, target, time, and context.  Let us say, a researcher wishing to alter a situation is interested in measuring relevant attitudes. However, it may not be clear as to what are the relevant attitudes.

Let us consider the blood donation example again. Suppose a researcher wishes to predict whether people will give blood at the campus blood drive on Tuesday. If the researcher makes the following scale:

I, extremely like/quite like/slightly like/neutral/slightly dislike/quite dislike/extremely dislike giving blood,

then the results will be invalid. This is because there is no reason to expect the above attitude measure to correctly predict whether people will “give blood at the campus blood drive on Tuesday.” The researcher should ensure that the attitude measure should correspond with the behavior measure regarding action, target, time, and context. Researchers, to predict correctly, should not measure “giving blood,” but should measure “giving blood at the campus blood drive on Tuesday.” This can be achieved by the following scale.

I, extremely like/quite like/slightly like/neutral/slightly dislike/quite dislike/extremely dislike giving blood at the campus blood drive on Tuesday.

A few other examples are, that an attitude toward ‘‘hiring women’’ is an attitude toward a behavior, whereas an attitude toward ‘‘women’’ is an attitude toward an object. Another one could measure an attitude toward ‘‘Amul peanut butter’’ or toward ‘‘buying Amul peanut butter’’; the former is an attitude toward an object, whereas the latter is an attitude toward a behavior.

Nevertheless, there are certain situations where the principle of correspondence cannot be used. For example, not only buying Amul peanut butter, but also towards all of the behaviours towards peanut butter or wide range of behaviors that discriminate against women and not just hiring behaviors. Here, measuring attitude towards behaviour is invalid. The solution could be to measure attitude towards a set of discriminatory behaviours to predict the peoples’ behaviour. But the important point is that the “attitudes toward behaviors are better predictors of behaviors than are attitudes toward objects.”

A practical point is it is easier to measure the intention than the actual behaviour. Hence, researchers use behavioural intentions as a substitute for behaviours. But there remain two questions unanswered till date. The first and bigger question is how well behavioural intentions predict behaviours. Intentions are good in predicting behaviour, but would lack of intention support the reverse conclusion? The empirical findings vary widely. In general (but there are exceptions), behavioral intentions do a better job of predicting behaviors when the intention and behavior measures conform to the principle of correspondence than when they do not. Thus, the substitution of behavioral intentions for behaviors is most acceptable when one uses correspondent measures.

The second questions arise when we measure we miss few aspects of principle of correspondence. When we measure behavioural intentions, we lack in principle of correspondence because,  behavioral intention does not necessarily have a target, an action, a time, and a context. I am quoting the example from the original author:

Imagine the behavior of ‘‘buying a television set.’’ For a person to actually perform this behavior, he or she must buy a particular brand of television set, at a particular time, at a particular store or from a particular Web site. But for this person to intend to perform the behavior, many of these elements need not be specified. In the case of this example, the intention specifies a rather vague target (television set rather than a specific brand of television set) and an action (buy) but not a time or a context. Therefore, to have an attitude measure that is correspondent with the intention measure, it too should specify the target (in a similarly vague way) and the action but not a time or a context. Consequently, when one attempts to predict behavioral intentions from attitudes, it is possible to fully specify target, action, time, and context or to not fully specify these four elements. In either case, the principle of correspondence is obeyed so long as the degree of specification of the four elements is the same for both the attitude and behavioral intention measures.”

Open Attitude Measures

In spite of researchers agreeing to the principle of correspondence, it is not clear as how to measure repeated behaviours. For example, if a researcher is interested in predicting “helping spouse in household work regularly.” If the researcher were interested in only one performance of helping spouse, it would be easy to obey the principle of correspondence as follows:

Attitude measure: I like/dislike to do household chores at least one time during the month of October. (Participant makes a check mark on a scale.)

Behavior measure: I engaged in household chores at least one time during the month of October. (Participant confirms or disconfirms that he or she performed the behavior.)

The above method does not work well for repeated behaviours. A solution was suggested Courneya. He proposed the idea of open attitude and behavior measures to address this problem. The idea is to have the respondent specify a number of behaviour rather than the researcher. The following is an example of open measures:

Attitude measure: I like to engage in household chores _____ times during the month of October.

Behavior measure: I engaged in household chores _____ times during the month of October

This brings us to the end of part 2. Let us take a break. In part , we will look into more factors in attitude measurement such as implicit attitude measures, direct and indirect attitudes, and a few other relevant issues. 

Assignment question

After reading the above article, students can discuss when attitudes are not good predictors of behaviors and can think of situations where attitudes may not matter. If one has a positive attitude toward a brand – say Audi – will it result in buying behavior? When will attitude result in buying behavior and when will it be otherwise?

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