Ethics Chapter 1 Attitude Part 2

Attitude Part 2


Perhaps the most straightforward way of finding out about someone’s attitudes would be to ask them. However, attitudes are related to self-image and social acceptance (i.e. attitude functions). In order to preserve a positive self-image, people’s responses may be affected by social desirability. They may not well tell about their true attitudes, but answer in a way that they feel socially acceptable. Given this problem, various methods of measuring attitudes have been developed.  However, all of them have limitations.  In particular the different measures focus on different components of attitudes – cognitive, affective and behavioral – and as we know, these components do not necessarily coincide.


Attitude measurement can be divided into two basic categories

  • Direct Measurement ( Likert scale and semantic differential)
  • Indirect Measurement (projective techniques)


The semantic differential technique of Osgood asks a person to rate an issue or topic on a standard set of bipolar adjectives (i.e. with opposite meanings), each representing a seven-point scale. To prepare a semantic differential scale, you must first think of a number of words with opposite meanings that are applicable to describing the subject of the test.

For example, participants are given a word, for example, ‘car’, and presented with a variety of adjectives to describe it.  Respondents tick to indicate how they feel about what is being measured. The semantic differential technique reveals information on three basic dimensions of attitudes: evaluation, potency (i.e. strength) and activity.

Evaluation is concerned with whether a person thinks positively or negatively about the attitude topic (e.g. dirty – clean, and ugly-beautiful).

Potency is concerned with how powerful the topic is for the person (e.g. cruel – kind, and strong – week).

Activity is concerned with whether the topic is seen as active or passive (e.g. active-passive).

Using this information we can see if a person’s feeling (evaluation) towards an object is consistent with their behavior.  For example, a place might like the taste of chocolate (evaluative) but not eat it often (activity).  The evaluation dimension has been most used by social psychologists as a measure of a person’s attitude because this dimension reflects the affective aspect of an attitude.


An attitude scale is designed to provide a valid, or accurate, measure of an individual’s social attitude.  However, as anyone who has every “faked,” an attitude scales know there are shortcomings in these self-report scales of attitudes.  There are various problems that affect the validity of attitude scales.  However, the most common problem is that of social desirability.

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Socially desirability refers to the tendency for people to give “socially desirable” to the questionnaire items.  People are often motivated to give replies that make them appear “well adjusted”, unprejudiced, open-minded and democratic.  Self-report scales that measure attitudes towards race, religion, sex etc. are heavily affected by socially desirability bias. Respondents who harbor a negative attitude towards a particular group may not wish be admit to the experimenter (or to themselves) that they have these feelings.  Consequently, responses on attitude scales are not always 100% valid.


The major criticism of indirect methods is their lack of objectivity. Such methods are unscientific and do not objectively measure attitudes in the same way as a Likert scale. There is also the ethical problem of deception as often the person does not know that their attitude is actually being studied

when using indirect methods. The advantages of such indirect techniques of attitude measurement are that they are less likely to produce socially desirable responses, the person is unlikely to guess what is being measured and behavior should be natural and reliable.


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