The Relationship Between Beliefs, Values, Attitudes and Behaviours
"The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind."— William James
What Are Beliefs, Values and Attitudes?
In our various roles, our beliefs, values and attitudes are constantly interacting with those of our peers, friends, family or teachers. We seem to instinctively 'like' the individuals who share our core values and beliefs. Harmonising our value systems is what makes a relationship successful, be it personal, educational or professional.
Proponents of adult learning state that in order to achieve competence and excellence, one needs to be able to teach and assess not only knowledge and skills, but attitudes, as well. To achieve excellence, we must be able to identify the core values and belief systems that underpin attitudes2.
Performance improvement can only come from learning the appropriate knowledge and skills. Possessing the right value and belief systems may influence our motivation, intention and engagement with a specific task.
We may come across individuals who seemingly possess the knowledge and skills to a do a task, but only with a positive attitude towards the task will there be motivation, engagement and intention to complete the task.
The 'iceberg' diagram below shows the relationship between our hidden values and belief systems and our outward behaviours. However, there are two factors displayed that directly influence behaviours—one is the attitude that underpins the behaviour, the other is the capability to express the expected behaviour.
'The power of knowledge to organise, select, learn and judge comes from values and beliefs as much as, and probably more than, from information and logic'— Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak (2000) Working Knowledge
Attitude: Description and Significance
Almost all educational theories encompass teaching and assessment of knowledge, skills and attitudes. While we find it easier to define knowledge and skills, definitions of attitudes vary.
Attitudes have been described as hypothetical constructs that represent a person's like or dislike for anything. Attitude is a judgment made on the 'attitude object' (a person, place, task, event, skill, etc.). Judgments from attitude can range from positive, negative or neutral.
Attitudes arise from an inner framework of values and beliefs, developed over time. Carl Jung, in his essay on psychological types, defines attitude as "the readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way,"1.
The Three Components of Attitude
Attitudes are comprised of three components: emotions, behaviours and thoughts. These three components can also be described as the 'ABC' model: affective, behavioural and cognitive.
The 'affective' response is one's emotional response to a task or an entity. The 'behavioural' response is the displayed verbal or behavioural tendency to a task or entity, whereas the 'cognitive' response is the cognitive evaluation of the entity based on an internal belief system.
There is considerable overlap in the semantics of beliefs, values and attitudes, however, these are also distinct constructs (as illustrated above).
Attitude: Based on the Behaviours of Ourselves and Others
One of the key lessons to be learned is that we are at the mercy of expressed behaviours. Both in ourselves and in others, we ‘assume’ attitudes based on observed behaviour.
For example, someone who regularly arrives late may be considered not very punctual or organised. However, this same person may spend time caring for somebody who is very ill, and their personal time delivering this care may interfere with their prompt arrival to work or lessons. With this new information, they may be viewed from a different perspective.
Our attitudes toward observed behaviour will also tint our judgements. For example, if a person arrives shoddily dressed for an interview, we may feel they have not taken the time to prepare. However, if the said person believes their talent and skills are what should be recognised and not their appearance—this mindset influences their attitude toward dressing ‘smart’ and thus influences their behaviour.
Behaviours may also be ‘false’. A person may display false obeisance and ritualistic behaviour when they need a favourable review, or feel they are being observed for performance. This may indicate a certain attitude, but the observer needs to delineate the difference between a true attitude and a false behaviour implying an attitude. A person who is constantly fawning and agreeing to everything their superior says may not necessarily be in agreement, but may fawn in order to carry favour.
In assessing behaviour, one needs to be aware of capability. There have been situations where a particular person may be considered ‘rude’ due to a raised voice or lack of clear idioms and phraseology, such as saying 'thank you' and 'please'. Yet, if the person or persons observed have never received any training to modulate their speech pattern or learn the idioms and phraseology of the language they are communicating in, they may not have the capability to express the right behaviour for the situation. This, in turn, may be perceived as a ‘bad attitude’ by those that have the capability to express a more appropriate behaviour.
"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome."— William James
Provide Feedback on Behaviours, not Attitudes
Positive attitudes are needed in an individual in order for them to be motivated and engaged in a task. Attitudes arise out of core values and beliefs we hold internally. Beliefs are assumptions and convictions we hold to be true based on past experiences. Values are worthy ideas based on things, concepts and people. Behaviours are how these internalised systems (attitudes, beliefs and values) are expressed.
These factors heavily influence the ability to learn and organise knowledge and skills. In order to influence performance in a learning context or an organisation (or even at home!), one needs to be aware of the key differences between these constructs.
Feedback on attitudes will always be perceived as judgemental as it is about others' behaviour filtered through our value systems. It is better, therefore, to provide feedback on behaviours. It is even better to determine ideal behaviours for an organisation, situation or learning environment and set the scene before the behaviours are being assessed. This way, feedback can be contextualised on behaviour that is observed and factual. This reduces the potential for conflict and low morale.
- Attitudes are not the same as behaviours.
- Attitudes are a construct of internal beliefs and value systems.
- Attitudes, capability or circumstance influence observed behaviour.
- Use caution when assessing attitudes and use behaviours as examples.
- Feedback and behaviour management can change attitudes.
- Changing attitudes can also change values and beliefs and vice versa.
- An understanding of these constructs helps personal and organisational management.
"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."— Lou Holtz
- Jung, C.G.  (1971). Psychological Types , Collected Works, Volume 6, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01813-8
- Knowles, M. (1975). Self-Directed Learning.New York: Association Press.