AS Psychology


Attitudes and Behaviour


The following two pieces of research (LaPierre 1934 and Corey 1937)  are both about expected behaviour and attitudes.  Imagine you are (a) a hotelier etc. in LaPierre’s study,  and (b) a student in Corey’s study.  What reasons might you give for behaving as you did both publicly and privately?  Consider both situational and predispositional approaches.


How might the Theory of Reasoned Action (and subsequently the theory of Planned Behaviour) be applied in these cases in order to explain the behaviours?


Box 1


The Hotel Experience


It was LaPierre's study of attitudes versus actions, in 1934, that first alerted social psychologists to the possibility that the long‑assumed relationship between people's attitudes and their behaviour might not exist, or at least is difficult to demonstrate empirically. Interestingly, LaPierre began from the position that in practice 'social attitudes are seldom more than a verbal response to a symbolic situation', i.e. most measures depend on verbal responses to questions about some verbally described, broad category such as 'an ethnic minority'. Unhappy with this situation LaPierre decided to investigate racial prejudice by observing the real behaviour of hotel and restaurant personnel. His interest in this particular test was aroused by the fact that he had travelled extensively with a young Chinese student and his wife. The Chinese couple in his company were accommodated in the best hotel in a small town noted for its bigoted attitude towards Orientals. Two months later LaPierre happened to be in this town again and had the idea of phoning the hotel and asking whether they would accommodate 'an important Chinese gentleman'. The reply was an unequivocal 'No'. That was what started a 10,000 mile journey to study attitudes versus actions.


LaPierre tried to establish a replicable procedure at each hotel or restaurant. Wherever possible he let the Chinese couple negotiate about their room, while he stayed out of sight; or he let them go ahead into a restaurant. The establishments were both 'high class' and 'auto‑camps'; sometimes the researchers were travel worn and dusty and sometimes they looked more presentable. In all, the Chinese couple were accepted at 66 hotels and auto‑camps and 184 restaurants and cafes throughout the USA. LaPierre took detailed records on each occasion and judged that they received more than ordinary consideration in 72 of these encounters. Only once was the couple refused.


LaPierre concluded that, despite the undoubted anti‑Oriental prejudices in the USA at that time, the overt behaviour of hotel and restaurant personnel when faced with the Chinese couple was not bigoted. He says: 'It appeared that a genial smile was the most effective password to acceptance. My Chinese friends were skilful smilers, which may account in part for the fact that we received but one rebuff in all our experiences ... I was impressed with the fact that even where some tension developed due to the strangeness of the Chinese it would evaporate immediately when they spoke in unaccented English'.


LaPierre allowed 6 months to elapse between each such visit and sending a questionnaire to the hotel or restaurant concerned. Each questionnaire asked the same question: 'Will you accept members of the Chinese race as guests in your establishment?'. In some cases this was the only question, in others it was inserted amongst similar questions about other racial groups. LaPierre reports: 'With persistence, completed replies were obtained from 128 of the establishments we had visited' (out of a total of 251). In response to the relevant question, 92 per cent of the replies from restaurants and caf6s and 91 per cent of hotels, auto‑camps and 'tourist homes' said no. LaPierre states that: 'The remainder replied "Uncertain; depends on circumstances". From the woman proprietor of a small autocamp I received the only "Yes", accompanied by a chatty letter describing the nice visit she had had with a Chinese gentleman and his sweet wife during the previous Summer.' In addition, the questionnaire was sent to hotels and restaurants other than those visited, but in the same areas. The same negative answer was received.


LaPierre's paper ends with the paragraph:


'The questionnaire is cheap, easy and mechanical. The study of human behaviour is time‑consuming, intellectually fatiguing and depends for its success upon the ability of the investigator ... Yet it would seem far more worthwhile to make a shrewd guess regarding that which is essential than to accurately measure that which is likely to prove quite irrelevant.'






Box 2


When is cheating not cheating?


Corey (1937) measured the attitudes of 67 university students towards cheating in classroom examinations and compared the scores with actual cheating in classroom tests. He used what is known as a Likert‑type scale, in which the subjects were asked to agree or disagree on a five‑point scale with a set of statements about cheating. The students were taking a course in educational psychology and each week for five weeks they were given a 'true/false' type of test on their week's work. The papers were returned to the students for self‑marking the following week, meanwhile having been secretly marked by the researcher. The students were asked to mark their own tests, in a way which gave them plenty of opportunity to cheat. The measures of cheating did not decrease over the five‑week period, a finding which Corey uses to assure the reader that the students could not have been suspicious about the tests and that 'rumours' could not have been in circulation. Corey found that the best predictor of cheating was the difficulty of the test (i.e. the need to cheat in order to get good marks).


On the attitude measure (Corey's paper does not indicate when this questionnaire was administered ‑ before or after the behaviour measure), maximum sympathy with cheating would have scored 250 and minimum 50. The average score for the students was 133. In the real tests, 76 per cent of the students cheated; one student raised his score by an average of 12 points on each of the five tests. However, the attitudinal measure and the behavioural measure of cheating were completely unrelated; those who disapproved of cheating were just as likely to cheat.