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The ABC Model of Attitudes: Affect, Behavior & Cognition

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  1. 0:05 Attitudes and the ABC Model
  2. 1:48 Affective Component
  3. 2:52 Behavioral Component
  4. 4:17 Cognitive Component
  5. 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Erin Long-Crowell

Attitudes are an important topic of study for social psychologists. In this lesson, we define attitudes and discuss their three components as illustrated by the ABC Model: affective, behavioral and cognitive.

Attitudes and the ABC Model

Do you believe that God exists? What's your opinion on politics? What are your favorite pizza toppings? These questions may be seemingly unrelated, but it's likely you have strong opinions about all three of these topics. Developing opinions and forming likes and dislikes about everything around us is part of our daily lives. These attitudes affect the way we live and the choices we make.

The snake is an attitude object eliciting fear in some individuals
Attitude Object

Attitudes can be defined as evaluations of ideas, events, objects, or people. Attitudes are generally positive or negative, but they can also be uncertain at times. For example, sometimes we have mixed feelings about a particular issue or person. Regardless, attitudes are an important topic of study for social psychologists because they help determine what we do - what we eat, how we vote, what we do with our free time, and so on.

Every attitude has three components that are represented in what is called the ABC model of attitudes: A for affective, B for behavioral, and C for cognitive. Although every attitude has these three components, any particular attitude can be based on one component more than another.

In other words, each component can also be the answer to the question: where does an attitude come from? There are affectively-based attitudes, behaviorally-based attitudes, and cognitively-based attitudes. Let's take a closer look at some examples.

Affective Component

First, the affective component refers to the emotional reaction one has toward an attitude object. Think of someone - we'll name her Alice - who has ophidiophobia (a phobia of snakes). A snake is an attitude object. Whenever Alice is exposed to a snake - whether she sees one or thinks about one - she feels extreme anxiety and fear. This is only one component of this specific attitude, though; we will discuss the other two components a little later in this lesson.

Now, an attitude that is stemmed from or originally created by an emotion is called an affectively-based attitude. Attitudes about hot-button issues - such as politics, sex, and religion - tend to be affectively-based, as they usually come from a person's values. This type of attitude is used to express and validate our moral belief or value systems.

Behavioral Component

Political attitudes are typically affectively-based
Affectively Based Attitude Politics

The next component of an attitude is the behavioral component, and it refers to the way one behaves when exposed to an attitude object. Think about Alice and her snake phobia again. We already identified the affective component of her attitude towards snakes - fear and anxiety. How do you think she behaves when it comes to snakes? Most likely, she avoids them whenever possible. If she does see one, she probably screams or cries. This behavior is the second component of that particular attitude.

As for attitudes that are rooted in behavior, think again about the question: where does an attitude come from? Sometimes, we are unsure of our feelings about a particular topic. Imagine a friend asks if you like hummus. Since you don't regularly eat hummus and can't immediately recall what it tastes like, you think back about the times that you have eaten it. You remember that you normally eat all of the hummus you are given, so conclude that you must like it (or at least, that you don't dislike it). Because your attitude is determined by observing your own behavior, this is an example of a behaviorally-based attitude.

Cognitive Component

The third and final component of an attitude is the cognitive component, and it refers to the thoughts and beliefs one has about an attitude object. We've already determined that Alice avoids snakes and is scared when she is exposed to them. But, what does she think about snakes? It's likely she believes that all snakes are dangerous and gross. Beyond the physical and emotional reactions of her phobia, there is also this cognitive component of her attitude.

Attitudes based on facts, such as computer speed, are cognitively-based
Cognitively Based Attitude

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