Students' Attitudes


Daniel Katz and Floyd H. Allport

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

THREE main purposes have been combined in the preparation of this volume. The first is the practical objective of college administration, that is, the adjustment between the organized methods of higher education and the human factors involved. The applications of psychology and statistical methods to education in the last few decades have been numerous and effective. They have, however, been developed mainly from the viewpoint of the administrator or the teacher, and have been concerned primarily with efficiency in the management of educational institutions. In the present study we have dealt with the college situation from the standpoint of the student. Instead of confining our knowledge of students to their learning processes and seeking ways in which to improve their academic records, we have tried to discover what the students think about the college they attend, or about the meaning and value of education in general. If in education we have the purpose, as many think, of developing the attitudes, habits, and tastes of the entire personality, how shall the results of our efforts be measured? In careful measurements of intellectual ability and scholastic attainment, we have achieved much. In gauging the effects of college life, however, in many of its deeper and more personal phases, such as habits of thinking, ambitions, prejudices, beliefs, and personal standards of value, scarcely a beginning has been made. It is hoped that the present study will contribute toward the knowledge and method of this neglected field.

In examining the adjustment of students to college life from the standpoint of the students themselves, a transition must be made from the practical view of the administrator to the more intimate approach of the personnel worker and the psychologist. Consider, for example, such subjects as the student's opinion of coeducation, his attitudes and practices in regard to honesty in examinations, the manner in which he conceives and reacts to the influence of a fraternity, or his attainment of a satisfactory personal religion. Our findings in questions of this sort, while

(vi) they may contain helpful suggestions for teachers and administrators, lead also to problems of a definitely psychological type. We are dealing with emotional conditioning, covert conflict, rationalization, and the acquisition of traits and habits. We do not, to be sure, see these processes in their entirety in a given personality, but only as a cross section of a community, involving large numbers of students in a single type of reaction. The problem, nevertheless, is of a distinctly psychological character. We shall show, for example, that there are groups, or patterns, of attitudes which, in various types of students, seem to go together in characteristic ways. Certain broad differences of temperament and personality stand out as portrayed in the individual's academic interest and social reactions. Hence, the second objective of this study is to investigate the psychology of modern college students.

The authors' third purpose has arisen from their interest in the newly developing science of attitude measurement, and its relation to the social sciences. Attempts have been made by many recent investigators to ascertain the character of attitudes and opinions held in different groups. Some of these experiments have been in the political field and have dealt with the knowledge, biases, and behavior of citizens concerning cur-rent issues. Suggestive studies have also been made of the distribution, among certain classes of the population, of social and economic viewpoints and of racial prejudice. The difficult and hazardous field of sex practices and sex attitudes has also been explored in a tentative way. A number of studies of the opinions of college students have preceded the present investigation, though dealing for the most part with a more limited selection of questions. The concluding chapter of the present work is devoted to a description and critical summary of investigations of attitudes which have been made in the academic field. Progress in the study of attitudes has been due to the contributions of two divergent groups of investigators. Sociologists and students of the political and economic sciences, on the one hand, have become deeply interested in determining the contents of the attitudes which enter into culture and the mores, and which make up the effective loyalties and biases, and the public opinion generally, within certain groups. On the other hand, a small number of investigators have approached the problem from the standpoint of developing more satisfactory techniques,

(vii) and of overcoming the difficulties peculiar to the measurement of such subjective entities as attitude and opinion.

It is hoped that our present effort will be of some interest from the standpoint of method as well as of content. The plan which we have adopted may be regarded as a kind of compromise, in which we have maintained an interest in the significance of the attitudes measured and the psychological factors at work, while at the same time we have tried to develop a scale technique and statistical procedure which will be reliable for investigations of this general type. Although the major contribution of the present research may perhaps lie more upon the side of content than of method, the discussions we have given of certain methodological problems and our attempts to solve them for our own purposes may be of some slight service to other workers in this field. But if our hopes with respect to the value of the work as method are to be justified, such vindication will probably come not so much from the treatment of scales and statistical techniques as from the attempt to show how such techniques can be used to discover hypotheses fruitful for social psychology and the science of public opinion. Examples of instances in which such principles have been suggested are as follows : the patterning or association of attitudes in certain groups (suggestive of political and legislative "blocs") ; the employment of common stereotypes and rationalizations as disguises of motivation among different classes of individuals; the characteristics of typical and atypical opinion; the emotional factors implied by bimodal and skewed distributions. Hypotheses which suggest the relevance of our methods for investigating public opinion are discussed in later chapters under such heads as "pluralistic ignorance," "impression of universality," "projection," and the "institutional fiction." It is hoped that some of these formulations may be of service to sociologists and political scientists. Although the entire discussion is based upon the returns from the Reaction Study at Syracuse University in 1926, it is our hope that it may in some degree transcend the local situation and contribute to the broader interests we have described above.

The device of the questionnaire, through careless and injudicious use, has recently evoked much criticism. In justice, there-fore, to our investigation, a few words should be said concern-

(viii) -ing this technique and our manner of using it. The validity of information gained through a questionnaire depends upon the manner in which it meets three tests, which may be stated as follows : (1)What kind of information is sought? (2) How are the questions worded? and (3) How are the results to be interpreted? As for the second of these tests, it is believed that the questions used in this study were, on the whole, clear and specific, and that they dealt with facts with which the student was conversant. Considerable effort was made to state the items unambiguously and to phrase them in such a manner as to invite rather than repel truthful co-operation. The questions did not require an answer in the terms of a mere "yes" or "no," but had, as a rule, several parts so that they permitted the expression of different varieties and shades of opinion. Many of the questions were in the form of attitude scales, in which one variable alone was employed, and discriminating responses upon this variable were requested.

The first and the third tests of questionnaire technique, dealing with the kind of information sought and the interpretation of the results, may be considered at the same time. Granting that the questions asked are entirely within the student's competence to answer, how can one know that, even upon an anonymous questionnaire, the student is telling the truth? An answer to a certain type of inquiry may be a rationalization or a means of retaining one's self-esteem rather than a statement of genuine motive or behavior.[1] To draw the line between fact and wish is difficult for most people, even those having the best of intentions. Lack of candor is often self-deception. How can we be sure, therefore, that the information we have re-quested can and will be accurately given; or, what amounts to the same thing, that the interpretation we place on the answers is correct? The solution of these difficult questions must be sought in a discriminating treatment of the questions employed and the answers given. It seems reasonable to suppose that upon certain topics, such as the student's attitude toward var-

(ix) -sity athletics or the desirable degree of academic freedom, there should be, in general, relatively little resistance to giving, anonymously, a frank expression of opinion. Besides, full per-mission was given the student to decline to answer the question if he preferred; hence, on subjects of this kind, there was probably little occasion for those who did answer to conceal their true opinions. Upon some matters, however, such as one's reasons for coming to college, the significance of honor grades, the degree of dishonesty involved in cribbing, or one's feeling of personal and racial superiority, there may well be a certain amount of self-deception or deliberate evasion. In topics of the latter type the attempt has been made, both in framing the question and in interpreting the results, to make wide allowance for such a lack of candor. In some instances we have purposely tried to evoke the characteristic rationalizations of the students, rather than to determine their "fundamental" motivation. Customary rationalizations, expressing certain values of their own, in spite of their lack of harmony with other attitudes in the personality, are important as evidence of at least a "partial motivation"; and they throw considerable light upon the campus situation from both an administrative and a psychological standpoint. In discussing topics of this nature we have tried, consistently and impartially, to present all the possible interpretations of the replies in question.

The popular distinction between what the students "actually" feel or think and what they report when they attempt a rational or public accounting of attitudes is often misconceived. From a psychological as well as a logical standpoint, there is no justification for asserting that the attitude which the student reveals privately and confidentially to his roommate is his real or true opinion, whereas the attitude which he expresses on the same subject to a professor or to an audience is a pure fiction significant only as an evasion or as a means of securing popularity. Even though these two opinions may be mutually contradictory, they both have a meaning in the individual's behavior; and we cannot fully understand him as an individual without taking them both into account. Furthermore, since much of human behavior is social, and so many of the situations in which we find ourselves are public or institutional in character, we shall miss a great deal that is important in understanding both the social order and the part which the individual

(x) plays in it if we do not consider the "public" as well as the "private"' attitudes of the individuals we are studying.

A related general objection to the use of the questionnaire is that it tells us only what people say; whereas the more significant fact is what people do. The words of an individual are thought rarely to conform in an exact manner to his overt con-duct. In dealing with this objection we must also discriminate with regard to the topics upon which information is solicited. If one were to ask a man how often he had taken things which did not belong to him or told an untruth, one would scarcely expect a complete agreement between the man's words and his actions. If, however, the question concerned the manner in which the man had voted, or would vote, upon a certain issue, one might feel fairly (though, of course, not absolutely) certain that the individual had spoken the truth. In the case of political action there is perhaps a closer agreement between word and deed, since the deed (voting) is in itself merely a form of verbal behavior. Where the acts about which we inquire are themselves largely verbal, or as the behaviorist would say, implicit, the replies may be taken more nearly at their face value. In such cases it is the attitude alone which counts. But when the question deals with overt conduct in the social sphere and the individual is likely to incur blame for deviations from the standard, the responses must be carefully weighed by a consideration of the circumstances Since the Syracuse University Reaction Study asked questions about both these types of behavior, the implicit and the overt, considerable care was given to a discriminating treatment in which the nature of the question was taken into account. While most of the items dealt with attitudes' in the strict, subjective sense, a few questions, such as those concerning the degree of cribbing or of church-going, were of the opposite type. These latter have been interpreted accordingly. We have endeavored to leave the final judgment upon all such questions open, bringing before the reader impartially the various alternative hypotheses which the data suggest. While our conclusions have therefore been extremely meager upon certain phases of students' behavior, we hope that compensation has been made for this lack by the merit of scientific caution, and that our use of the questionnaire method in the treatment of fact and opinion has been vindicated.


As a partial offset to these limitations, it may be suggested that there is, after all, a large range of implicit or verbal behavior (attitudes) which is interesting and important in itself, and which can be accepted with fair assurance from the reports of the students themselves. In such questions, for example, as attitudes toward fraternities, degree of vocational adjustment, need for advice, religious beliefs, and philosophy of life, the individual's own word for his attitudes is probably as reliable as information obtained from some externally visible source. Or, at least, such testimony is an indispensable aid in supplementing the observation of overt behavior. A study of fraternity exclusiveness by outer behavior alone would be limited in its possibilities; and an investigation of the campus religious situation would be poorly covered if one were to rely only upon the number of times the students had been seen at church or had read the Bible. Inner (or implicit) responses, comprising attitudes which the student can best report upon for himself, make up an important part of life. Notwithstanding the fact that actions often speak louder than words, the behavior which it has been possible to study with some assurance in this investigation is of sufficient importance and interest to have justified the undertaking.

The kind assistance of a number of persons is here grate-fully acknowledged. Dr. William E. Mosher, Director of the School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, has from the beginning given valuable aid and advice upon many problems. It was due in large measure to his interest in academic questionnaire studies and to his suggestion that such a study might be made at Syracuse, that the authors undertook the present investigation. He has also made available from the research funds of the School a liberal sum of money with which the entire expense of the study was defrayed. Our thanks are likewise due to Dr. Charles Wesley Flint, Chancellor of Syracuse University, both for his suggestions in the preparation of the Reaction Study and his support in setting aside a period of two hours in which the questionnaire could be presented to all the students of the University. In this connection we are grateful to the faculty for their cordial aid, and to the students who helped to administer the questionnaire. Mention should likewise be made of the co-operation given by the entire student

(xii) body. and particularly by the editors of the Syracuse Daily Orange and the committee which collected the data from which the Reaction Study took its final form. We are indebted to Professor L. L. Thurstone, of the University of Chicago, for advice concerning the statistical treatment of the results. The faithful and efficient service of a number of clerical helpers should be recorded, including especially Miss Mary Weinheimer, Miss Betty Buettner, Miss Elizabeth Emond, Mrs. Harold Alderfer, Mrs. Gracia Anderson, and Miss Miriam Lip-man. And, finally, our thanks are due to Mrs. Myra K. Betters, Miss Norma Gallinger, and Mrs. Charlotta Gallap, for effective work in connection with the manuscript and the proofs.

The larger portion of this volume, comprising chapters one to fourteen inclusive, as well as the supplementary chapter, was originally written by Mr. Katz. The material of chapters one to thirteen constituted his dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Syracuse University. Mr. Katz and Mrs. Jenness together aided in preparing the questionnaire, supervised its administration, and, with the aid of clerical assistants. compiled and tabulated the results. Mrs. Jenness also made the analysis of the data for the chapters dealing with religious topics. To Mr. Allport fell the task of drafting the Reaction Study form, directing the research, and preparing the work for publication. He has revised the manuscript, re-writing numerous portions, including the summaries and conclusions, and has given the final interpretation and emphasis to the facts presented.

F. H. A.
D. K.

December, 1930.


  1. We are dealing here with general aspects of questionnaire technique only. However sound the questionnaire form may be, there arises the further query as to whether the subjects in reacting to it may not respond to the specific questions asked, but check them in a somewhat random or even in a facetious manner. It is possible to obtain a check upon this matter by certain tests of internal consistency. Such tests as applied to the results of this study will be discussed in the first section of Chapter I.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2