Social Attitudes

Luther Lee Bernard

Social attitudes are individual attitudes directed toward social objects. Collective attitudes are individual attitudes so strongly interconditioned by collective contacts that they become highly standardized and uniform within the group. While most social attitudes are thus collectively interconditioned and standardized, others such as those of antisocial and maladjusted individuals and of persons living in advance of their time are also important.

The attitude is originally a trial response, i.e. interrupted, preparatory or substitute behavior arising within an incompleted adjustment response, but it may become the permanent set of the organism. It ranges from concrete overt

( 306) muscular response to that which is abstract, inner or neural, and has three control functions. First, it enables the adjusting organism to take a sensory and perceptual inventory of its technique and thus to control subsequent adjustment behavior. This control becomes intellectual when the attitudes are abstract and symbolical. Secondly, a competing, contending or cooperating organism, perceiving the attitudes of another, may so direct its own responses as to protect or further its interests. Thirdly, the attitude is used to indicate one's own intentions to others, thus preventing aggression and inducing fear or cooperation. This function often operates on an automatic basis, and in man it reaches a very high development through the use of abstract thought (verbalized attitudes) communicated through spoken or written language. The overt attitudes are easily perceived, but the inner or neuro-psychic attitudes are difficult to detect, although it is more important to respond to them than to the overt attitudes. Consequently the inner attitudes have developed substitute overt expressions, largely through vocalization, gesture and handwriting movements, to take the place of the older overt partial and preparatory movements which were dropped as trial and error became increasingly neural and decreasingly muscular. These last two functions of attitudes are specifically social and are closely correlated with social consciousness. The first function is primarily personal and is most closely correlated with self-consciousness.

Social attitudes are as numerous as relationships between people, but they may be classified according to several general criteria, the most significant of which are: the collective relationships which standardize and stereotype attitudes through interconditioning (urban, rural, sectarian, racial, nationalistic, political, occupational, etc.); the objective or aim of the behaving person (humanitarian, exploiting, protective, etc.); the valuation placed upon the objective or the technique utilized (approving, discouraging, etc.); the object calling forth the attitudinal response (attitudes toward money, radicals, sex, etc.); and the time reference of the attitude (traditional, progressive, temporary, permanent, etc.). Attitudes of the first type are perhaps the most significant. They are most studied by the collective behaviorists, while the social psychologists are interested in all types of attitudes.

Attitudes form the basis of all language and communication. In them is implicit all finished social behavior and through them practically all social adjustment is consummated. It has always been important to respond to behavior while it is still attitudinal, that is, recognizable as tendency or as intention. Language, which is essentially symbolic and substitute behavior, has made such anticipatory responses possible even to the most hidden or abstract inner attitudes. Modern social behavior is organized primarily on the basis of such anticipatory response.

Public opinion is the highest form of collective attitudes. Its function in the collective control process is analogous to that of the intellectual (verbalized) attitudes in the individual adjustment process. In the latter the higher and more abstract types of attitude are a part of the process of criticism and reorganization of unsatisfactory experiences on the overt plane. In the collective adjustment situation it is public opinion which serves to criticize and reorganize, or sometimes to rationalize and justify, the existing collective attitudes.

Many attempts have recently been made to classify and measure collective attitudes, especially urban, rural, occupational, political, buying, recreational, moral, antisocial and religious attitudes, in order to bring about their more successful control through public opinion or through governmental, educational, business and religious organizations. A frequent source of error here has been the substitution of the measurement of verbalized attitudes for the measurement of the total set of attitudes, including the overt and emotional. Such a procedure frequently emphasizes one's critical attitudes, or what one thinks one should do, rather than what one will or can do. Likewise students of public opinion often reveal collective ideals and rationalizations rather than fundamental social attitudes or tendencies, which are rooted in the organic sets, traditions and customs of the people. The latter are ordinarily more difficult to measure.


Consult: Faris, Ellsworth, "The Concept of Social Attitudes" in Journal of Applied Sociology, vol. ix (1924) 404-09; Thomas, W. I., and Znaniecki, Florian, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, 2 Vols. (2nd ed. New York 1927) vol. i, p. 22-30; Bernard, L. L., Introduction to Social Psychology (New York 1926) ch. xvi; Cooley, C. H., Social Organization (New York 1909) chs. iv-v; Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct (New York 1922); Mead, G. H., "Social Consciousness and the Consciousness of Meaning" in Psychological Bulletin, vol.

(307) vii (1910) 397-4,05; Thurstone, L. L., "Attitudes Can Be Measured" in American Journal of Sociology, vol. xxxiii (1928) 529-54; Bernard, L. L., "A Theory of Rural Attitudes" in American Journal of Sociology, vol. xxii (1916) 630-49; Mead, G. H., "The Psychology of Primitive Justice" in American Journal of Sociology, vol. xxiii (1917) 577-602.


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