Functionalist Theory

Daniel Katz proposed a functionalist theory of attitudes. He takes the view that attitudes are determined by the functions they serve for us. People hold given attitudes because these attitudes help them achieve their basic goals. Katz distinguishes four types of psychological functions that attitudes meet.

  1. Instrumental – we develop favorable attitudes towards things that aid or reward us. We want to maximize rewards and minimize penalties. Katz says we develop attitudes that help us meet this goal. We favor political parties that will advance our economic lot – if we are in business, we favor the party that will keep our taxes low, if unemployed we favor one that will increase social welfare benefits. We are more likely to change our attitudes if doing so allows us to fulfill our goals or avoid undesirable consequences.
  2. Knowledge – attitudes provide meaningful, structured environment. In life we seek some degree of order, clarity, and stability in our personal frame of reference. Attitudes help supply us with standards of evaluation. Via such attitudes as stereotypes, we can bring order and clarity to the complexities of human life.
  3. Value-expressive Express basic values, reinforce self-image. EX: if you view yourself as a Catholic, you can reinforce that image by adopting Catholic beliefs and values. EX: We may have a self-image of ourselves as an enlightened conservative or a militant radical, and we therefore cultivate attitudes that we believe indicate such a core value.
  4. Ego-defensive Some attitudes serve to protect us from acknowledging basic truths about ourselves or the harsh realities of life. They serve as defense mechanisms. EX: Those with feelings of inferiority may develop attitude of superiority.

Katz’s functionalist theory also offers an explanation as to why attitudes change. According to Katz, an attitude changes when it no longer serves its function and the individual feels blocked or frustrated. That is, according to Katz, attitude change is achieved not so much by changing a person’s information or perception about an object, but rather by changing the person’s underlying motivational and personality needs.

Example: As your social status increases, your attitudes toward your old car may change – you need something that better reflects your new status. (For that matter, your attitudes toward your old friends may change as well). 

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By Hassham

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