For some, behavior is a product of our attitudes, belief, and thoughts. Some contend that thought is the child of action. Numerous experiments have been conducted to explain the relationship between human behavior, beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes. Most people side with the premise that attitudes and beliefs influence behavior. This belief can only hold water under some conditions: that there is a minimal external influence on our actions, that the attitude is specific to the behavior and that the subject under consideration is conscious of his/her beliefs.
There is a flip side of it, though, at times behavior can influence attitude. In the case of role-playing, one tends to adopt and act out the perceived attitudes of the role being played. In a famous experiment conducted on students, a researcher wanted to find out whether prison brutality is as a effect of a combination of evil prisoners and brutal guards or just a manifest of the prison environment itself. Students were grouped into separate categories of prisoners and guards. The prisoners were given the prison suits and the guards given whistles, uniforms, and clubs. In the course of the experiment, it was observed that the guards started mistreating the prisoners and developing oppressive routines. The prisoners, on the other hand, became rebellious and apathetic. The experiment was terminated as it became a chaotic scene by the day. From this experiment, it can be wrongly deduced that we are at the mercy of the environment and situations we are exposed to. Not everyone who is exposed to a chaotic environment turns out to be chaotic though some may. Some may maintain their good behavior despite the chaotic situation or environment. The volunteers for the prison environment seemed to have been prone to aggressiveness.
At times, we end up believing what we say. When we tell people good things about ourselves, we tend to project out that good image of ourselves; we tend to act well to match up with what we had described ourselves. Eventually, we will deduce that we are good after a repetitive series of saying and doing what we say.
Some other interesting phenomena of attitude follow behavior is witnessed in a foot-in-the door scenarios where when someone does some trivial action it ends up opening more and more of the same action in the future. If for instance, you want someone to do you a favor, you, first of all, request them to do you a smaller favor first. The next time you ask them to do a seemingly huge favor, it will not be as hard or difficult as the first time. It is very disconcerting at first for a soldier to make his first kill. But once he has killed it becomes less disturbing to kill the next victim and the successive ones. Similarly, it is hard at first to do an evil act, but once you loosen your guard and do it, it becomes easier the next time such an opportunity presents itself. Fortunately, the flip side of this is also true. When you are confronted with an evil and a moral dilemma, and you do something virtuous instead, the next time you are faced with such a scenario it will be easier for you to pick a virtuous choice. In brainwashing, prisoners of war who had been captured were induced into fulfilling some trivial requests at first, but gradually they were made to fulfill demanding ones eventually.
One might wonder, though, why behavior affects our attitudes. One logical explanation might be that to create a good impression, we at times adopt attitudes that are consistent with our actions. To manage the impression we create, we end up adjusting what we say to please rather than to offend. Another explanation comes in the form of cognitive dissonance theory. This theory suggests that we develop some tension when two simultaneously accessible beliefs are inconsistent. To mitigate the tension created, we tend to adjust our thinking.
It is never settled whether human behavior is as a result of attitudes or whether our attitudes follow our actions. That is why scientists are still doing many experiments trying to prove which influences which.
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