Lost your password?
Don't have an account? Sign Up

How attitudes influence behaviour

A wise friend and learned scientist proposed the following definition for food safety culture.

The aggregation of the prevailing, relatively constant, learned, shared attitudes, values and beliefs contributing to the hygiene behaviours within a particular food handling environment.

(Griffith, 2010)

Recently we have been assisting a large retail client with a food safety culture project. In travelling around the country visiting sites and meeting management teams, I have had firsthand experience in observing some of these aspects of food safety culture.

So let’s understand what each of them is so you can recognize them too.

According to the Oxford dictionary, attitude means a settled way of thinking or feeling about something. Synonyms would be point of view or viewpoint or your frame of mind. Psychologists further define attitude as a set of emotions, beliefs, and behaviours toward a particular object, person, thing, or event. Attitudes are often the result of experience or upbringing, and they can have a powerful influence over behaviour. While attitudes are enduring, they can also change.

As I am not a psychologist, I suggest we look to these professionals to help us understand how attitudes are formed and thus how they can be changed.

According to researchers in this field, attitudes consist of the following components:

  • Cognitive Component: Your thoughts and beliefs about the subject
  • Affective Component: How the object, person, issue, or event makes you feel
  • Behavioural Component: How attitude influences your behaviour

Attitudes can also be explicit and implicit. Explicit attitudes are those that we are consciously aware of and that clearly influence our behaviours and beliefs. Implicit attitudes are unconscious but still have an effect on our beliefs and behaviours.

So how do attitudes form?

Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell

An interesting observation is that We tend to assume that people behave according to their attitudes. However, social psychologists have found that attitudes and actual behaviour are not always perfectly aligned.

Why Attitudes Change

While attitudes can have a powerful effect on behaviour, they are not set in stone. The same influences that lead to attitude formation can also create attitude change. This is important for us to understand when it comes to creating a positive food safety culture.

Classical conditioning can be used to create positive emotional reactions to an object, person, or event by associating positive feelings with the target object. How can we create positive feelings around food safety? Operant conditioning can be used to strengthen desirable attitudes and weaken undesirable ones. People can also change their attitudes after observing the behaviour of others.

Elaboration Likelihood Theory is important when it comes to training as this theory of persuasion suggests that people can alter their attitudes in two ways. First, they can be motivated to listen and think about the message, thus leading to an attitude shift. Or, they might be influenced by the characteristics of the speaker, leading to a temporary or surface shift in attitude. Messages that are thought-provoking and that appeal to logic are more likely to lead to permanent changes in attitudes.


Chaiklin, H. Attitudes, Behavior, and Social Practice. The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare: Vol. 38 : Iss. 1 , Article 3. Perlovsky L. A challenge to human evolution—cognitive dissonance. Frontiers in Psychology. 2013;4. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00179.
American Psychological Association. Teaching Tip Sheet: Attitudes and Behavior Change.