- Education and Science
Attitudes, Beliefs and Values
'The power of Knowledge to organise, select, learn and judge comes from values and beliefs as much as, and probably more than, from information and logic'— Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak (2000) Working Knowledge
All educational theories encompass teaching and assessment of knowledge, skills and attitudes. While we find it easier to define knowledge and skills, definitions of attitudes vary.
Attitudes have been described as a hypothetical construct that represents a person's like or dislike for anything. Attitude is a judgement made on the 'attitude object' ( a person, place, task, event, skill, etc.). These judgements can range from positive, negative or ambivalent.
Attitudes arise from an inner framework of values and beliefs, developed over time. Jung, in his essay on Psychological types, defines attitude as " the readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way"1
Attitudes comprise of three components : Emotions, Behaviours and Thoughts. These can also be described as the ABC model : Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive.
The Affective response is one's emotional response to a task or an entity; the Behavioural response is the displayed verbal or behavioural tendency to a task or entity whereas the Cognitive response is the cognitive evaluation of the entity based on internal belief system.
There is considerable overlap in semantics of beliefs, values and attitudes, however these are also distinct constructs as illustrated below.
"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which,more than anything else, will affect It's successful outcome."— William James
Beliefs, Values and Attitudes
In our various roles, our beliefs, values and attitudes are constantly interfacing with those of others; our peers, friends, family or learners. We seem to instinctively 'like' those individuals who share our core values and beliefs. It is clear that harmonising our value systems is what makes a successful relationship, be it personal, educational or professional.
Proponents of adult learning state that in order to achieve competence and excellence, one needs to be able to teach and assess not only knowledge and skills but also attitudes . To do this we have to be able to identify core values and belief systems that underpin attitudes2.
Performance improvement can only come through learning the appropriate knowledge, skills and possessing the right value and belief systems that in turn influence our motivation, intention and engagement with a specific task.
Often we may come across individuals who seemingly possess the knowledge and skills to a do a task, but only with a positive attitude towards the task, there will be motivation, engagement and intention to do the task.
The following 'iceberg' shows the relationship between the hidden values and belief systems to expressed attitudes through behaviours. However, there are two factors that directly influence behaviours displayed - one is the attitude that underpins the behaviour, the other is the capability to express the expected behaviour.
It's not what happens to you that determines how far you will go in life ;it is how you handle what happens to you.— Zig Ziglar
Behaviour vs. Attitudes
One of the key lessons to be learnt from this is that we are at the mercy of expressed behaviours. Both in ourselves and in others we ‘assume’ attitudes based on observed behaviour.
For example someone who regularly arrives late may be considered not very punctual and disorganised. If that someone is then found to care for somebody who is very ill and has to spend a lot of their personal time delivering this care, which then interferes with their prompt arrival to work or lessons, may be viewed with a different perspective.
Our attitudes towards observed behaviour will also tint our judgements. For example if a person arrives shoddily dressed for an interview, we may feel they have not taken the time to smarten up. If the said person believes that it should be the talent and skills that should be recognised and not based on their appearance – this influences their attitude to dressing ‘smart’ and thus influences their behaviour.
Behaviours may also be ‘false’ a person may display false obeisance and ritualistic behaviour when they need a favourable review or they feel they are being observed for performance. This may indicate a certain attitude but the observer needs to delineate the difference between a true attitude and a false behaviour implying an attitude. A person who is constantly fawning and agreeing to everything their superior says may not necessarily be in agreement but may fawn in order to curry favour.
In assessing behaviour, one needs to be aware of capability. There have been situations where certain person may be considered ‘rude’ due to a raised voice or lack of clear idioms and phraseology like saying thank you and please. Yet if the person or persons observed have never received any training to modulate their speech pattern or learn the idioms and phraseology of the language they are communicating in, they may not have the capability to express the right behaviour for the situation. This in turn ay be perceived as a ‘bad attitude’
"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."— Lou Holtz
Values & Behaviours
Feedback on Behaviours
In summary, positive attitudes are needed in an individual to be motivated and engaged in a task. Attitudes arise out of core values and beliefs we hold internally. Beliefs are assumptions and convictions we hold to be true based on past experiences. Values are ideas of worth about things, concepts and people. Behaviours are how these internalised systems are expressed.
The ability to learn and organise knowledge and skills is heavily influenced by these factors. In order to infleunce performance in a learning context or in an organisation ( or even at home!) one needs to be aware of the key differences between these constructs.
Feedback on attitudes will always be perceived as judgemental as it is about others' behaviour filtered through our value systems. It is better therefore to feedback on behaviours. It is even better to determine ideal behaviours for an organisation, a situation or a learning environment and set the scene even before the behaviours are being assessed.This way feedback can be contextualised, can be on behaviour that is observed and factual. This reduces the potential for conflict and low morale.
- Attitudes are not the same as behaviours
- Attitudes are a construct of internal beliefs and value systems
- Observed behaviour are influenced by attitudes, capability or circumstance
- Caution in assessing attitudes using behaviours as examples
- Attitudes can be changes by feedback and behaviour management
- Changing attitudes can also change values and beliefs and vice versa.
- An understanding of these constructs helps personal and organisational management
In the next related hub, We may discuss behaviour management and influencing behaviour change. Hope this was useful.
Please do leave comments and feedback below. Appreciate your time.
1.Jung, C.G.  (1971). Psychological Types , Collected Works, Volume 6, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01813-8
2.Knowles, M. (1975). Self-Directed Learning. New York: Association Press.
"The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind."— William James