Why does attitudes sometimes not predict behaviour

140112001 Iman + Islam + Ihsan = Istiqamat

[I wrote this article many years back whilst I was a first year undergraduate studying psychology. It may be of use to the ulama and practitioners to determine strategies to increase the practices of Muslims. Notice the parity with Iman, Islam and Ihsan mentioned in Hadith Jibril. A simple solution may be (1) inform (talim/cognition), (2) practice(ta’mil/behaviour) and (3) remind (tazkir/affect and suhbah/norm) to ensure consistent behavior. If Allah wills I may write a more detailed piece on the applications of theories to instill greater consistency between ilm and amalSaif]


Why does attitude not always predict behaviour? This is a subject much debated by psychologist and one that is not easily answerable. Hoggs and Vaughan (2002. p. 145) define attitude as “a general feeling or evaluation – positive or negative – about some person, object or issue.” It is accepted that attitude is something that occurs internally as opposed to behaviour which is defined as an overt measurable response. It should be noted that psychologist differ on the definitions of these terms and do not agree on any particular accepted description; however, for the purposes of this essay this should suffice.

Before explaining what causes attitude behaviour inconsistency it is necessary that the relationship between attitude and behaviour be understood. This essay will first explain this connection and determine how behaviour is affected by attitude. Thereafter factors which are detrimental to attitude-behaviour consistency will be discussed followed by introductions to theories which may provide explanations as to why attitude sometimes does not predict a person’s behaviour.

The relationship between attitude and behaviour

The relationship between attitude and behaviour is somewhat controversial amongst psychologists. It is reasonable from the definition of attitude to assume that behaviour will follow attitude. This theory was accepted by early psychologists, however, there not many studies supporting this hypothesis. LaPiere (1934) conducted one of the first studies which provided empirical evidence which suggested that attitude may not predict behaviour. Lapiere, a Caucasian male, along with a Chinese couple travelled across America visiting restaurants. It was discovered that only one out of the sixty six hotels they went to refused them service. Moreover all of the 184 restaurants they visited provided them service. What is more, 72 of these treated them with above average courtesy. Six months after returning LaPiere sent letters to these establishments asking “will you accept members of the Chinese race as guest in you establishment?” From the 128 places that responded 91 percent refused to accept Chinese customers. Lapiere concluded that this study showed that people’s attitude and their behaviour are not linked and the first does not predict the latter.

This study although raise a lot of questions regarding the validity of attitude-behaviour consistency it is considered flawed. There are various criticisms on the study amongst which it is argued that the study was biased due to the presence of LaPiere. Additionally, the long time interval between the respondent’s behaviour (if in fact it was the same person) and their response may have affected the study. This criticism is substantiated by Fishbein & Coomb’s (1974) study which states that it is easier to predict the behaviour of a voter more accurately one week before voting as opposed to one month before Election Day. A further criticism can be made based on a study by Fazio and Zanna (1981) who suggest that direct experience enable better prediction of behaviour rather than when experienced directly.

Despite all of these criticisms other studies have found in favour of LaPiere (1934). For instance Corey (1937) conducted a study measuring students’ attitude toward cheating and their actual behaviour. The students in the study were given multiple choice tests which were then returned to them so that they may mark their own papers. They were unaware that the papers were already marked and their real scores recorded. The study found a low consistency between attitude and behaviour. This hypothesis was confirmed by Wicker (1969) who after reviewing many studies discovered low correlations between attitude and behaviour.

The detriments to attitude-behaviour consistency

The question arises here why does attitude not affect behaviour? Psychologists have presented some explanations. The most popular of these was the ABC model presented by Hovland and others. Whilst the previous studies assumed a single component to attitude Ajzen and Fishbein (1980, p.19) citing Allport (1935) state that “[the] unidimensional affective or evaluative measures did not do justice to the complexity of the attitude concept.” Rosenberg and Hovland (1960) amongst others suggested that the accurate prediction of behaviour can be explained by a multiple component model to attitude.

The ABC model states there are three components to attitude; affect behaviour and cognition which are required to be present for there to be an attitude-behaviour consistency. Cognition is referred to the way an object is perceived or thought of regardless whether it was true or false. Cognition is made of selective perceptions and as such is subject to bias. Closely related to cognition is the affective element which is the emotional feelings towards [as in] the liking or disliking of an object. Lastly, the behavioural element is a predisposition of a person to act in a certain way; this is the intention to act rather than an overt act itself. These three dimensions are interconnected and are assumed to predict behaviour.

To illustrate a person who believes that a group is hard working may feel a liking towards that group and as a result behave in a more positive manner with them. It is argued by psychologist that the inconsistency discovered in the early studies was as a result of them only measuring the behavioural element whilst disregarding the cognitive and affective elements.

The absence of beliefs, feeling or behavioural tendency is said to cause inconsistencies between attitude and behaviour (Festinger, 1957). However, these are not the only factors which affect the relationship between them. Triandis (1982) counts almost 40 factors which are detrimental to attitude-behaviour consistency. One notable detriment which affects behaviour is attitude accessibility which is defined by Eagly and Chaikan (1998, cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2002, p, 162) as “those that can be recalled from memory more easily and are expressed more quickly ,” This factor is said to enhance probability of predicting behaviour and in contrast reduce the consistency  when accessibility is low (Fazio, 1995). In a study Fazio (1986) assessed the attitude of shoppers regarding their opinion of the 1986  presidential  election such as their opinion on whether  “a good president for the next four year would be Ronald Regan” These people were then contacted three months later, on the day following the elections, enquiring whether they had voted and if so for whom. It was discovered that people who demonstrated a high accessible attitude showed an 80 percent variance which was explain by attitude as opposed to the 44 percent revealed by those with low accessible attitude.

The acceptance of accessibility as a cause for attitude-behaviour inconsistency necessitates that many other variables are also accepted as detriments; Hogg and Vaughan declare that accessibility of attitude is influenced by attitude strength as well as direct experience.  Additionally, they identify other factors which may have similar effects and state, “attitude, salience, ambivalence, consistency between affect and cognition, extremity, affective, intensity, certainty, importance, latitude of rejection and non-commitment are common themes in recent attitudinal research” (Hogg and Vaughan 2002, p.165).


There are many variables which affect and deter attitude from affecting behaviour. Psychologists have attempted to identify the most significant factors and formulate theories which may explain why attitude does not always predict behaviour. The theories of "reasoned action" and "planned behaviour" introduced by Azjen and Fishbein (1975, 1985 respectively) are two theories which have gained particular popularity amongst psychologists. The theory of planned behaviour which in essence is a modification of the theory the reasoned action assumes people are rational decision makers and states that the prediction of behaviour is dependent  upon three elements; (1) attitude towards the behaviour, (2) perceived behavioural control, and (3) subjective norms. These three combined, form intention which leads to behaviour.

The first element, attitude towards behaviour, refers to belief held by a person regarding a particular behaviour rather than the object. This is similar to the cognitive element of the ABC model of attitude. Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) assume that attitude is only one amongst many which contributes toward behaviour. This has been criticised by some psychologist such as Bohner (2001, cited in Eysenck, 2004, p.637) who states, these theories “have used a narrow definition towards behaviour and have relegated the attitude concept to the background as one among many predictors of behaviour.” The second element of this theory is an extension to the first component which dictates that the beliefs be evaluated. Azjen and Madden (1986) illustrate this point; they suggest although students and their families want to achieve high grade prediction of their behaviour will be unreliable unless they evaluate their ability. The third element takes into consideration external factors i.e. normative influence – a disposition to act in a manner which is considered proper by others. It is accepted in psychology that social influences and conformity effects a person’s decision and behaviour. Examples can be seen in external studies such as Sherif (1936) and Asch (1951). These three combined lead to the formation of intention which from the studies mentioned previously show how it correlates with behaviour. The theory of planned behaviour has been supported by many studies such as Armitage and Connor (2001) who have confirmed this statement after a meta-analysis of 185 studies.

However, the theory according to Ajzen and Fishbein (1977) will only predict behaviour if both the attitude and behaviour were measured in the same level of generality. To illustrate, there will be very little attitude-behaviour consistency if a person were asked regarding their attitude about sports whilst measuring their behaviour on football. This is illustrated by Davidson and Jaccard (1979) who conducted a study on women’s attitude to contraception and their actual use of it during the following two years. When the participants were asked their “attitudes towards birth control” the correlation was 0.08. This rose to 0.32 when the question was changed to enquire about their “attitude towards oral contraception”. It is argued that the attitude-behaviour inconsistency in the previous studies such as LaPiere (1934) and Corey (1937) was caused due to this reason. It also provides a reason why attitudes at times do not predict behaviour.


It is difficult to determine any one variable or explanation which accurately answers why attitude does not always predict behaviour rather it is a combination of factors that lead to attitude-behaviour inconsistency. Attitude is complex and relates to behaviour in many ways rather than having a direct connection and is affected by both internal and external influences. Although not comprehensive and unanimous there are two theories which are likely to explain as to why attitude does not [always] affect behaviour. One theory, suggested by Fazio (1986), states that it is the lack of accessibility to one’s memory and the inability to respond promptly which causes this inconsistency. Alternatively, Ajzan and Fishbein provided a much more complex explanation called [the] theory of planned behaviour. It suggests that the absence of (1) attitude towards behaviour, (2) perceived behavioural control, or (3) subjective norm causes poor consistency between attitude and behaviour. It is possible to accept both these theories as there does not seem to be any direct conflict between the two. Furthermore, other theories may also be adopted to explain some specific behaviour which is affected by other external factors.


Muhammad Saifur Rahman Nawhami
Saturday, 22 Safar 1434
25 December 2013



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