Educational Psychology: What are the various theoretical approaches to attitude change available today in the teaching environment?



8a iii). Outline the caprices and kinks of  all the various theoretical approaches to attitude change available today.

Attitude change

In this section, I have discussed attitude change in the light of different theoretical approaches.

  1. The behavioristic theory.
  2. Cognitive theory,
  3. Social learning theory


1. Behavioristic theories

The same theories that we have used to explain how attitudes are acquired can be used to explain attitude change. At times a person who had acquired a positive attitude towards something assumes a negative attitude and where a positive attitude was a negative one might replace it. If we consider social learning theory and attitude change, a child or a pupil will change a held attitude in order to conform to the one held by significantly other people. For example, a boy who did not like a certain kind of food changes his attitude when he learns that that dish is the father favourite. Since he wishes to identify with the father he likes the food the father likes. Using the operant conditioning theory we note that the attitudes that are not reinforced go through the process of extinction until they disappear. In association learning, when the stimuli paired together cease the conditioned behavior dies.

2. Cognitive theories persuasion

Attitudes can be changed through persuasion.

        • In school we may wish to change attitudes regarding learners social behaviors
        • Attitudes towards the positive aspects of the African cultures.
        • Attitudes towards healthy living habits and so on.

In persuasion, we use persuasive messages. These messages should be repeated often until they become familiar. This is similar to the methods used to commercialize products. Every time the television or the radio is on the commercial selling the product is on. Currently, the Lux soap is being so highly commercialized on the television screens on the billboards, in the print media everywhere. There was a time the AAR, Kilometric, and Panadol had hit the screens. This method can be used in the school to ensure that pupils continue hearing a certain message over and over again.

The use of persuasive arguments can also help to foster attitudes. Arguments should be delivered depending on the audience receiving them.

          • To an audience that is dull a one-sided argument will do. This is the side that presents the attitude that is intended to be acquired. Many politicians and theologians use this method.
          • The school could use this method when dealing with a young audience.
          • When dealing with an intelligent audience a two sided argument works very well. Let the audience know the attitude to hold while presenting them with the opposing view as well. You tell them something like—-

Pro abortionists say this—-but remember.

          • Or students are not working hard because they say there are no jobs— but remember—-.

This gives the audience psychological immunity. Again theologians and politicians are very good at this. In persuasion emotional appeal is very important. By emotional appeal we mean reaching the feelings of the audience.

          • For example, over and above telling a person that smoking causes mouth, throat and lung cancer, these messages could be enriched.
          • The person could be shown a video of doctors operating on cancerous lungs. The emotions that will arise from watching the video will make the person stop smoking.
          • Likewise, if a girl who wants to abort is exposed to a video showing doctors performing an abortion she will most likely stop wanting to abort.
          • If we want the youth to change their sexual behavior, an exposure to video showing the sufferings people go through before eventually dying of aids passes the message clearly across.

Role models

Role models can also be used to help change attitudes. The role model must be a person who is trusted, one who is an expert, credible competent, better informed than most and one who is gregarious. (Loves to mix with people)

The model should be a person perceived as being high. For religious and moral issues the bishop or the Kadhi should be the role model.

        • For legal matters, the lawyer.
        • For medical issues the doctor.
        • If we want girls to change their attitude towards mathematics and science, female professors in the respective fields should be taken as role models. This person could be invited to school to talk to the students.
        • The students can also be shown a video of the person at work.

Yet again commercial advertisements are very good at using famous people to sell their products. For example:

        • The famous Kenyan rally driver was at one time used to sell Panadol. There were huge billboards with Njiru saying that, “I could not do the rally without my AAR membership”.
        • The famous one time gold medallist Kipchoge Keino was used to sell the kilometric biro pens with the message that it runs and runs—

The use of dissonance in attitude change

Cognitive dissonance theory of attitude change was developed by Leon Festinger, (1957). The theory states that we change our attitudes because we are motivated to maintain consistency among our cognitions According to the theory human beings are psychologically comfortable when the cognitions they hold about themselves objects events and other people are consistent, (all in agreement). For example you believe that someone is your friend and when you have a problem he helps you out. One cognition in this example is:

        • John is my friend.
        • The other cognition is; he helps me out when I have a problem.
        • The two cognitions are said to be consonant because they are consistent or in harmony.
        • We could also have a statement like;
        • I have always known Wafula is a traitor.
        • When we sneaked out of school he told on us.
        • The first cognition here is that Wafula is a traitor.
        • The second cognition is that; he told on us. Again these two cognitions are consonant. Consonant cognitions help to stamp in an attitude it helps to confirm it and not to change it.


Cgnitions are said to be dissonant when they are inconsistent. The inconsistency is called dissonance and it is caused by psychological tension arising from mixed feelings. Dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable hence human beings strive hard to remove it.

Examples of dissonance

Having the knowledge that something is bad or harmful yet one continues to indulge in it

    1. the knowledge cigarette smoking is harmful to the lungs, yet I cannot do without my cigarette.
      • The first cognition is that cigarette smoking is harmful. The second cognition is that I smoke.
      • Another example: Excessive drinking of alcohol is harmful to the liver.
      • I love to drink heavily. The first cognition is; excessive consumption of alcohol is harmful the second I love to drink heavily. In both instances the cognitions are dissonan


Sources of dissonance

Inconsistency with cultural moves. In this case, dissonance occurs when one holds beliefs that go against one’s culture or religion, particularly when there are strong cultural or religious feelings about an attitude. For example when a country is going to war and everybody is in the war mood but there is a person who holds feelings to the contrary.

In school, there could be a culture of handwork and seriousness but one student may want to incite the others to strike.

Dissonance can also be caused by inconsistency between a particular behavior and the general trend of behavior. For example a person who is known to be honest or truthful or even obedient at all the times but at one time he is forced to be dishonest, untruthful or disobedient. In a school situation a student may be performing very well academically but suddenly he begins to perform poorly.

How does dissonance cause attitude change?

All situations where dissonance occurs call for rethinking, decision-making and change of attitude.

    • In school the teacher could use dissonance to change attitudes in a way that will benefit learning.
    • For example a teacher who is posted in a new school where the dominant culture is mass failures in his subject can use this approach.
    • He could change the teaching methods.
    • Use teaching aids.
    • Teach in an interesting manner.
    • Initially give tests that students can pass and then.
    • Increase the level of difficulty as pupils improve their performance. At the end of it all the students will turn around and say ”we had not imagined that math or Chemistry can be this easy or interesting”
    • Dissonance will have worked to change an attitude.



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