Attitudes and Behavior

Ellsworth Faris
University of Chicago


Psychology was defined as the science of behavior some years before the appearance of "behaviorism," and the effort of this school to limit the notion of behavior to the observable movements is unwarranted. The attempt to discard all consideration of the subjective experiences neglects the middle or mediating part of the act, which is equally important with the objective and observable. Actions occur in separate and organized temporal structures with a unity that is the result of the subjective imagination. The attitude is in part the residual effect of the act, but it remains as a predisposition to certain forms of subsequent activity. The motive or intention is an integral part of the act, and no estimate of the quality of the act can be made without considering the inner experience. Objects or values also occur as the result of action and are correlates of attitudes. "The attitude is the hunger; the object is the beefsteak." Objects result from organizations of experience, and therefore are empirical, not metaphysical. Desires are incomplete acts, impulses with images of the object of satisfaction. Opinions and answers to questions about attitudes introduce a fourth factor into the problem of attitudes and their determination, and much past effort has failed because the fourth factor was not suspected. Attitudes exist as tendencies to act; they are subjective, and therefore difficult to investigate; but many invisible objects can be studied, and a great many competent men are now engaged in research with every promise of notable success.

It is nearly twenty years since psychology was first defined as the science of behavior. The significance of this formulation lies in the recognition of the importance of action and movement and the necessity of including more than the description and explanation of mental states. The beneficial results of the new conception were destined to be delayed by the rise, a few years later, of a vigorous and aggressive group who took up the word "behavior," added an "ism " and insisted that psychology was obsolete and that movement and action could alone be made the subject of scientific investigation. Thought, feeling, and imagination were found difficult to study; so, in order to save labor, their very existence was denied. The behaviorist boasts of the fact that he has no mind, and glories in his inability to think.

While it is too early to evaluate the effect of this last chapter in our current history, it is very clear that, along with the gain that has resulted in emphasizing objective observation, there has been a loss

( 272) in more than one direction. We have witnessed, in the first place, a terrifying creation of neologisms which appear to be mere translations of our familiar terms into awkward and inferior phrases. Instead of "imagination" we read of "neuro-psychic behavior reaction patterns," and instead of "thought" we are forced to hear of "implicit laryngeal behavior," as if suppressed speech did not include scores of other structures and muscles. It may provoke a laugh for a behaviorist to refer to his indecision by saying: "On that point I have not yet made up my larynx," but a phenomenon is neither explained nor explained away by the mere coining of a new phrase.

Another effect of the behavioristic mutiny has been more serious for science. I refer to the tendency to limit the concept of action to the overt and visible. Just when the American psychologists were in a position to profit by the discoveries of Angell, Dewey, Mead, and their colleagues which enabled us to regard thought and reflection as phases of action, and to continue our researches with the insight into the nature of imagination as a constructive process made necessary because existing habits were inadequate and in order that new ways of action might be discovered-just when we had reached this point, the young men began to be informed that "the whole traditional clutter of conscious states and subjective concepts must be thrown overboard." Of course anyone who owns the ship and its contents can throw overboard any or all of the cargo, however valuable, but intelligent men will salvage it if possible. The psychologist can throw overboard tendencies to act, emotions, sentiments, wishes, and desires, but men who live and work will not throw them overboard. Courts of law will not throw them overboard, nor employers of men, nor lovers, nor parents, nor teachers. Psychologists can neglect the important aspects of human nature whenever they feel incompetent to deal with them, but then some other workers will arise who will try to make us understand what men live by, and how, and why. There is a lesson for psychologists in that other outlaw movement known as psychoanalysis, which built so formidable a structure on nothing but desires and wishes, conscious and unconscious. For it is inevitable that one extreme should beget another.

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One particular phase of the current denial of the importance of the subjective aspect of experience has arisen as a criticism of the concept of attitude initiated by Symonds [1] and elaborated by Bain.[2] The spirited attack of the latter writer seems to make timely the attempt to state anew some of the more elementary aspects of the act and the relation to action of attitudes, desires, wishes, opinions, and objects. It is not proposed to make any original contribution at this time. The purpose of this article is to set forth a constructive statement of what some of us found to our surprise was not the common property of social psychologists. Let us begin with "actions."

Human life consists of actions, but between one act and another we sometimes rest. There are valleys of calm between the mountains of endeavor. Raup's excellent and suggestive volume on complacency states this calm or rest as, in some sense, the end or purpose of the striving or action. The Gestalt psychologists refer to the same phenomenon under the term "equilibrium." If I read Woodworth and Hollingsworth aright, the same notion is set forth in their works. From this it follows that action in general is divided into separate acts in particular. Moreover, these separate acts can be shown to have a beginning and an ending. Some of them also have a middle, which is the main reason why there must be psychologists as well as behaviorists. For it is in the middle or mediating phase of certain of our acts that subjective experiences occur and become all-important.

The actions of men are not only separate and distinct events; they have also a structure or form. There is a temporal Gestalt, a configuration, an organization. When an act is ended it is possible to describe its consummation in terms of experience. In our major collective activities this consummation is usually marked by a formal ceremony, hence the "dedication" of public buildings, the formal ritual of degrees in colleges, the solemn signing of peace treaties and articles of agreement. But the separate actions of individuals have the same character, and it is possible to describe accurately the feeling of satisfaction or dissatisfaction when the act, en-

(274) -terprise, or project is done, finished, consummated. For the act us not merely a series of movements, but rather a series of movements plus some goal of endeavor, some end in view. Movements are integrated into acts by the fact that there is an imagined end and a felt unity. Even the most overt behavior receives its essential character from subjective experience. The mistress may insist that the task is not done, while the maid may contend that all is finished. There is no question of the movements performed; it is a matter of differing subjective pictures of what was intended.

But if actions have an ending they also have a beginning, and the beginning is an integral part of the act just as truly as the beginning of a race is part of a race or the beginning of a lecture is part of the lecture. And here appears another chapter of disaster in the ruthless unloading of the cargo by the behaviorists in throwing overboard desires, purposes, and subjective states. For, while there are mechanical movements, such as absent-minded acts, which have no purpose, our significant behavior has its beginning in a type of experience for which we use such words as "intent," "purpose," "motive." The effort which we have so often witnessed of late to treat the movements only and leave to some other pseudoscience the study of the subjective has the ludicrous result of identifying as identical actions which are utterly different. There is a difference between murder and accidental homicide, though the movements may be identical. There is a difference between suicide and accidental death. Dr. Cavan found, in her study of suicide, that it was highly profitable to study the "death wishes" of men, for the wish to die is incipient suicide. To give money sacrificially to aid a good cause is not the same as to give a like amount to curry favor with the public. To say that the act is the same but the motive is different is to miss the essential nature of both. The two acts are quite different, for the outer without the inner is no more the whole act than the inner apart from the outer. Behavior without purpose is accident; purpose without behavior is reverie. The planned act has both imagination and movement.

There are some acts that approach the automatic and the mechanical. Some of the reflexes would be included in this class, and certain learned activities which are evoked by an appropriate stim-

( 275) -ulus. The operation of the brakes on a motor car or even the quick turning of the wheel in view of a sudden obstruction are typical of such automatisms. We may speak of these as "immediate" acts. The word "instinctively" is often used to describe the behavior, though the co-ordination is, of course, an acquisition. More important for this discussion is the class of acts which we call "reflective," actions which require deliberation, planning, reasoning, thinking out a means of meeting the exigency. These acts occur when the situation is contingent and there is no immediate means at hand to enable the action to go on to completion or consummation. There is uncertainty both within and without, both externally and internally. The situation is imperfectly defined since and because there is no response ready to be made. In the full sense of the word there is neither stimulus nor response; instead of a stimulus there is an ambiguity or vagueness toward which we would like to act, while instead of a response there is an urge or tension which we do not know how to release. "I cannot understand this letter; I do not know what to make of him; I wonder what I ought to do." It is in the attempt to solve problems by means of reflection that the phenomena of imagination, meaning, desires, 'and wishes force themselves on the attention of the psychologist.

In order to show that attitudes considered as tendencies to action are essential to the adequate interpretation of behavior it is mainly necessary to emphasize the temporal character of the action. Even the quickest act requires a measurable time-span, while some acts consume minutes, others take hours, and some plans require years of endeavor. No discussion of acts can be adequate which takes no account of the past and the future as well as the present. Moreover, when an act has been consummated the condition or state of the actor is altered ineluctably. To have "lived through" a great experience is to be forever changed, and every reflective act leaves some permanent effect. Some deposit remains, not only in experience, but also in behavior. There results what Pareto calls a "residue." An unpleasant experience may leave a man with a bias or prejudice which he never had before. An unexpectedly happy experience may completely alter his leaning or proclivity toward the object of his action.


An action, therefore, has a duration, and when it has run its course and has been completed there are subsequent effects which are important to reckon with. But there are two ends to a line, two limits to the duration of an act. In addition to the residual effects succeeding the act there is an important consideration with respect to the antecedent conditions of the action. For, concerned as we are with the effect a given act has had, we are equally interested in what the future action is to be. Behavior is important, and what men do is vital; but we are also interested in what they are about to do, in what they can be induced to do. Hence the necessity, the vital necessity, of considering attitudes as tendencies of action.

Mr. Symonds expresses surprise that some regard attitudes as "desirable outcomes of education." It would seem incredible that anyone could know even superficially our public schools and doubt that attitudes are considered the desirable outcomes of education. Of course in the schools some attitudes are deliberately discouraged, but others are produced by long and patient effort. The teaching of history and of literature are primarily undertaken for the purpose of producing attitudes toward this nation and other nations, toward social and moral objects which the community approves.

We are vitally concerned with the future. This is written just after the adjournment of the Democratic convention at Houston. The papers carry prophecies, analyses, appeals, and propaganda. It is highly important to know what men are going to do, how they are going to vote. It is known that the southern Democrats have certain attitudes toward the Volstead act. It is known that they have certain attitudes toward the Republican party. Other attitudes are involved. What millions of people would like to know today is what they are going to do about Governor Smith. For the attitude will determine the general character of the act.

We are not only vitally interested in what men are going to do, but we are interested in producing predispositions and proclivities that will lead them to do what we desire. Hence we have schools, evangelists, newspapers, and organizations for the purpose of altering conditions and producing tendencies to certain types of behavior.

Now there is no reason why a behaviorist should be interested

( 277) in this subject, nor any reason why he should try to discover or understand attitudes. But the psychologist has always been interested in the whole of experience, and even if both behaviorist and psychologist should alike cease to be interested in the subject it would only mean that others would arise to try to answer the pressing questions. The needs of men are imperative; it is only a question which science or sciences will arise to meet the needs, to state the problems, analyze them, devise methods of investigation, and produce valuable and serviceable generalizations and laws.

As used in this article, an attitude is a tendency to act. The term designates a certain proclivity, or bent, a bias or predisposition, an aptitude or inclination to a certain type of activity. As so used, an attitude cannot be an act, though it may be the beginning of an act. The word is sometimes used to designate the muscular set when the act is immanent, but it cannot be so limited. For as men use the word and as we deal with men there is need to speak of a man's attitude when there is no behavior immanent. Even in moments of "complacency" or calm or equilibrium referred to before we must be allowed to assume the existence of attitudes as tendencies, latent but real. One man I know well has very decided attitudes and many of these attitudes I know so well that I could state them with every assurance of accuracy. He has decided attitudes toward prohibition, the tariff, the League of Nations, and Herbert Hoover. He has these attitudes and many more. He has them all now, though at this moment he is busily engaged in an activity remote from any of the objects named. And yet he does have these attitudes now, and they are tendencies of a very definite sort, and his future actions will result from these tendencies.[3]

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The nature of attitudes will be clearer if we consider them in relation to the objects and the emotionally toned objects which are appropriately called values. Here also there is evident some confusion, but the question is not really difficult. For the attitude is toward something to which the attitude is related. When equilibrium has been disturbed and a conscious and deliberate act results, one effect is the formation in experience of a new object, and the attitude or residue is the correlate of the object. At the party Romeo meets Juliet, and very shortly the girl becomes to him a beloved object, a value. We can speak of the attitude of Romeo toward the object, Juliet. They are correlative terms, arising simultaneously in experience. When the object changes, the attitude changes, pari passu. But it should not be difficult to distinguish my hatred from my enemy who is the object of the hatred. Until men become hopelessly unable to distinguish hunger from beefsteak there should be no difficulty in telling the difference between a value or object and an attitude.

It must be observed, however, that objects belong to experience, not necessarily to nature. Psychology is not concerned with what the object is, but with what it is experienced as. For we live in a world of "cultural reality," and the whole furniture of earth and choir of heaven are to be described and discussed as they are conceived by men. Caviar is not a delicacy to the general. Cows are not food to the Hindu. Mohammed is not the prophet of God to me. To an atheist God is not God at all. Objects are not passively received or automatically reacted to; rather is it true that objects are the result of a successful attempt to organize experience, and the externalized aspect of the organization is the object or value; the internal or subjective tendency toward it is the attitude. Let it be said again, the name by which this aspect of human nature is referred to is absolutely irrelevant. The essential point is that tendency, predisposition, organized inclination is centrally important, and that corresponding to this aspect of the experience of the person there is an externalized object of the tendency to which men give the name object or value.

Two other notions have been recently made the subject of debate, namely, wish and opinion. These are also important aspects of action, and each shall receive here a brief consideration.

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A desire is not characteristic of complacency. Some desires or wishes are so weak and unimportant that this fact may be obscured, but it is easy to show that when we wish we are in a certain condition of tension. We are incomplete. The hungry man wishes for his dinner. When he has dined his wish is gone. His impulse is "satisfied"; it disappears. If one might risk a phrase, the wish could be defined as an impulse together with an image of the object of satisfaction. A wish is, therefore, one aspect or phase of an incomplete act. One convenient distinction between wishes and attitudes lies here. An attitude exists as a tendency even when latent; a wish is always more or less dynamic or kinetic. A man may be said to have an attitude toward coffee. If he be very fond of coffee he may come to wish for coffee on occasion. Having had three cups, and enjoyed them all, he stilt has an attitude, the same attitude, toward the object, coffee; but he does not, let us hope, wish for any more. He may wish later. He has an attitude, but no wish.

If the foregoing considerations be convincing, it follows that a wish is not the predisposition to an act, but the actual part of an act. Some acts never get completed, but if wishes are sufficiently strong and do not mean action of too difficult a nature, it should be easy to regard wishes as essential phases of actions which go on to the end. If the wish is abandoned, then the act is left incomplete. Alas, many of our castles are only air!

As to the relation of opinions and responses to questionnaires asking about attitudes, there is little that now needs to be said. We can, for the most part, rely on the verdict of the many students who hastily endeavored to investigate attitudes by this short and easy and futile method. It would seem evident that a response to a questionnaire is itself an act. If the statement concerns some object, the attitude toward the object can be assumed to exist. But when one talks or writes he usually talks or writes to someone, and the object of the action in that case is often the questioner, and not the subject which the questioner wishes to be informed about. The sad experience of Bain and others with questions and answers about attitudes might be interpreted as due to the failure to take into account the fact that in a questionnaire there are four factors instead of only three. The fourth factor being so important and being wholly neglected in the calculations, the results proved relatively

( 280) valueless. But even if the fourth factor, the questioner, be eliminated, there is no warrant that the three factors remaining would be in a one-to-one correspondence. There is every reason to say that they would not so correspond. The attitude exists, and the object of the attitude is its correlate; but the reason, the opinion, the rationalization, this is, as Pareto has shown, much more variable, and it is necessary to devise more careful methods if we are to learn what attitudes are and how they are to be discovered.[4]

The method of studying attitudes cannot be discussed within the limits of this paper. It is hoped to make it the subject of a subsequent discussion. Readers of this Journal will recall the article by Thurstone, in which a suggestive attempt has been made to apply a refined statistical method to the problem.[5] It is clearly more difficult than was at first assumed to construct a scale which will measure the attitudes either of a group or an individual, though the former seems the easier task. The general principle adopted by Thurstone appears to be the consistency of the responses to a series of questions in comparison with the expressions of groups whose attitudes are known from other sources than their replies.

The specialist in this field will recall the work of such men as Williams[6] who have revealed the usefulness and even the necessity of asserting the existence of unconscious attitudes. John Dewey, in a brilliant discussion, has shown the necessity for assuming attitudes of which the actor need not be conscious in order to interpret behavior that is inconsistent.[7] Thus it appears that the notion of attitudes as tendencies to act is forced upon the investigator, not only in predicting what will be done, but in interpreting the behavior of the actor in the past.

The insistence on the importance of the subjective aspect of personality need not be the occasion of any lessened interest in the central importance of action and behavior. It only means that behavior is not always patent and overt. Sometimes the river runs

( 281) underground and its waters flow along a channel never seen by human eye and in a bed never sounded by any plummet. But it is there, and whatever methods can be devised to learn of it must be employed. The only unpardonable scientific sin would be to deny that there is any stream underground.

Thus qualified in meaning, the term "behavior" might be of the highest worth. For a man's personality and his character mean actions, since what my friend means to me is what he will do to me and for me, including what he has done. But the inner life of my friend is an integral part of his action, and it is necessary to assert the reality of the subjective experience, not as contrasted with movement, but as a connected phase of it.

What is needed is, not the denial of the difficult, but hard thinking and hard labor in the effort to devise means to wrest the secrets of nature from her in the realm of personality as men in natural science have done in their field. We need to investigate the genetic history of individual attitudes and to learn how they acquire their quality and their strength. We need to know the difference between the individual attitudes and collective or mass attitudes, for there does seem to be some essential difference. How attitudes are modified and how broken up is a problem, or rather a general class of problems on which much effort is at present being expended; but more workers are needed in this vineyard. There is also the problem of measurement and prediction. Again, there is the problem of the relation between the native and unmodifiable and the social and acquired. On this last rest such important political issues as, for example, a national immigration policy.

But this is not the place to present a list of research projects in the study of attitudes. The attempt has been to show that the notion of attitude is not only important, but essential. Some other word may prove more convenient in later usage, and some more desirable uniformities may and should be observed in the effort to communicate our thoughts to each other. But the important consideration is that the invisible and subjective experiences of men are integral and inseparable parts of their objective movements. To neglect the study of attitudes will be to fail to understand personality.


  1. See Psychological Bulletin, March, 1927, p. 200.
  2. See this Journal, XXXIII (May, 1928), pp. 940-57.
  3. The question of definition and the inconsistency in the use of the word "attitude" is a matter of much concern to Dr. Bain. This is more a matter of lexicography than of science. A word means what men mean by it, and most dictionaries patiently record all the uses of the words in the language. If one author is inconsistent, and most of them do slip, he should be held accountable for the fault, but scientific progress will not be made by mere voting about words. It is also a matter of common knowledge that other words are used instead of the word "attitude" to denote the same thing, e.g., tendency, predisposition, disposition, and habit. To the tyro this is confusing; but if we think denotatively, we cannot go far wrong. Even the word attitude could be abandoned and a meaningless symbol substituted without loss. We could speak of the element X which is left as a residue of a former action and predisposes to a future act or type of acts.
  4. See Pareto, Traité de Sociologie (Paris, 1919), for a masterly discussion of the three elements, résidues, derivations, and dérivées.
  5. See Thurstone, "Attitudes Can Be Measured," this Journal, XXXIII (January, 1928), 529-54.
  6. See J. M. Williams, Foundations of Social Science (New York, 1920), chap. xiv.
  7. New Republic, November, 1927.

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