ATTITUDES, VALUES, AND BELIEFS
Brian David Phillips
Picture This . . .
You and a friend went to a fast food restaurant. Your friend said she would rather not have a cola because she "doesn't like the taste."
Two days later, you see her walking down the street, drinking a cola, and wearing a T-shirt with a picture of her favorite actor drinking a cola.
What do you think accounts for your friend changing her mind.
A. She is merely following the fad of the day.
B. She likes the actor, so she likes cola.
C. She's just strange.
D. She's always liked cola and must have lied in the first case.
INTRODUCTION: Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs
A very key process in persuasion is the understanding of the attitudes, values, and beliefs of the audience.
In his speech "Images of the Consumer's Mind On and Off Madison Avenue," Milton Rokeach described how advertisers have very effectively approached the audience's belief systems in their persuasion campaigns.
The advertising man is not the only person who seeks to shape and change either people's beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. There are many kinds of people in our society, professional non- professional, working for pay and for free, who for various combinations of altruistic and selfish reasons are vitally interested in the theory and in the practice of shaping and changing other people's values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. Rokeach pointed, by way of illustration, to the psychotherapist, to the teacher, to the missionary, the politician, and the lobbyist. All these have in common, with the advertising man, the desire to influence and to persuade others to believe and to act in certain ways in which they would not otherwise believe and act.
This does not mean that the advertising man wants to change the same sort of beliefs which, say, the therapist or the politician wants to change. Every human being has many different kinds of beliefs, and every advanced society seems to have encouraged the growth of different kinds of persuaders who specialize in trying to change some kinds of belief and not other kinds.
TYPES OF BELIEF SYSTEMS
What, then, are the different kinds of beliefs which all men have and what kinds of beliefs does the advertising man wish most to influence? What are the properties of the different kinds of beliefs, and how easily is one kind changed in comparison to another kind? And what are the special problems which arise to plague the advertising man because of the fact that he specializes in trying to change certain kinds of beliefs and not other kinds, and what can he do about these problems?
FIVE KINDS OF BELIEFS
According to Rokeach there are five kinds of beliefs which he and his colleagues isolated in their work at Michigan State University. This work is part of a larger, on-going program of research extending over the past decade on the nature of man's systems of belief: how such systems of belief are formed, organized, and modified, and how such systems differ from one person to the next.
All persons are assumed to have belief systems, and each belief system contains tens of thousands of beliefs. These beliefs can not all be equally important to the person possessing them. It is necessary to assume that beliefs vary along a continuum of importance or centrality. Further, we must assume that the more important a belief the more it will resist change and the more widespread the repercussions in the rest of the person's belief system, because many of the beliefs "hooked up" with it will change too.
The five kinds of beliefs which Rokeach described may be represented by five concentric circles, with the key beliefs at the center, and the more inconsequential beliefs along the outside circle. To help keep track of them let he called the innermost beliefs Type A, which is then followed by Type B, and so on, until we get to Type E along the outside circle.
Type A Beliefs
At the core are Type A beliefs which Rokeach called primitive beliefs. These are beliefs we all share with one another about the nature of physical reality, social reality, and the self. For example, "I believe this is a table. I believe this is an audience listening to a speech. I believe my name is Brian David Phillips." These are all supported by one hundred percent social consensus. Type A beliefs are our taken-for-granted axioms which are not subject to controversy because we believe, and we believe everyone else believes. Such primitive beliefs are fundamental and we have evidence which shows that they are more resistant to change than any other type of belief. And scientists have obtained additional evidence suggesting that we become extremely upset when Type A beliefs are seriously brought into question.
Type B Beliefs
And then there is a second kind of primitive belief - Type B - which is also extremely resistant to change. Such beliefs do not depend on social support or consensus but, instead, arise from deep personal experience. Type B beliefs are incontrovertible and we believe them regardless of whether anyone else believes them. Many of these unshakable beliefs are about are about ourselves and some of these self-conceptions are positive ones - Type B+ - and some are negative ones - Type B-. The positive ones represent beliefs about what we are capable of, and the negative ones represent beliefs about what we are afraid of.
Rokeach illustrated some Type B+ beliefs which most of us here probably have: Regardless of what others may think of us, we continue to believe ourselves to be intelligent and rational men, able and competent, basically kind and charitable. Type B+ beliefs represent our positive self-images which guide our aspirations and ambitions to become even better, greater, wiser, and nobler than we already are.
But many of us also have Type B- beliefs - negative self- conceptions - which we cling to primitively, regardless of whether others may agree with us. We are often beset by phobias, compulsions, obsessions, neurotic self-doubts and anxieties about self-worth, self-identity, and self-competence. These are the kind of primitive beliefs that we only wish we were rid of, and it is these Type B- beliefs which the specialized psychotherapist is often asked to change. Other specialized persuaders are generally not trained or interested in changing Type B- beliefs, but they may be interested in exploiting them without trying to change them.
Type C Beliefs
A third kind of belief, Type C, Rokeach called authority beliefs - beliefs we all have about which authorities to trust and which not to trust. Many facts of physical and social reality have alternative interpretations, are socially controversial, or are not capable of being personally verified or experienced. For these reasons, all men need to identify with authorities who will help them to decide what to believe and what not to believe. Is communism good or bad? Is there a God or isn't there? How do we know the Chinese Nationalist Revolution actually took place? What about evolution? No man is personally able to ascertain the truth of all such things for himself. So, he believes in this or that authority - parents, teachers, religious leaders, scientists - and he is often willing to take some authority's word for many things. Thus, we all develop beliefs about which authorities are positive and which are negative, differing from one person to the next, and we look to such authorities for information about what is (and is not) true and beautiful, and good for us.
Type D Beliefs
A fourth kind of belief, Type D, called peripheral beliefs - beliefs which are derived from the authorities we identify with. For example, a devout Buddhist has certain beliefs about birth control and divorce because he has accepted them from the authority he believes in. You believe Jupiter has twelve moons, not because you have personally seen them, but because you trust certain kinds of authorities who have seen them. You are quite prepared to revise my beliefs about Jupiter's moons providing the authorities you trust revise their beliefs. Many people adhere to a particular religious or political belief system because they identify with a particular authority. Such peripheral beliefs can be changed, providing the suggestion or change emanates from one's authority, or, providing there is a change in one's authority.