Persuasion and public opinion – attitude formation

The attitudes of individual citizens are the raw material out of which a consensus develops. Influencing an individual’s attitudes is a prime task of the practitioner. Consequently, he or she must know their source, their organization as reflected in the person’s value system and personality, and the processes that bring attitude change.

Attitudes – Enduring systems of positive and negative evaluations, emotional feelings, and pro or con action tendencies with respect to social objects – people, places, things, and ideas.

Opinion – A response to a question about a controversial topic.

Opinion LeaderThose who knowingly or unknowingly influence other people’s opinions on certain subjects.

Public opinion – The sum of accumulated individual opinions on an issue in public debate and affecting a group of people.

Norms – Rules of behaviour that specify appropriate and inappropriate behaviour for people in society.

Folkways – Norms that are looked upon by members of a society or group within the society as not being extremely important and that may be violated without severe punishment or negative social sanctions.

Mores – Norms that are looked upon by members of a society or a group within the society as being extremely important and that when violated result in severe punishment.

Taboos – Powerful social beliefs that a particular activity, food, place, etc. is totally repulsive.

Social Sanctions – A positive social sanction is used to reward conformity to a norm while a negative one punishes deviation from it.

Values – Socially shared conceptions of what a group or society considers good, right, and desirable. The criteria or conceptions used in evaluating things (including objects, ideas, actions, feelings, and events) as to their relative desirability, merit or correctness.

Enduring, complex, integrated sets of organized social relationships which typically achieve some intended goals for certain people. The family is a social institution as are schools, churches, and prisons.

Culture – All the ideas, knowledge, traditions, beliefs, norms and values that are widely known and accepted by individuals in a society.

Subculture – A group that shares some of the cultural elements of the larger society, but also has its own distinctive values, beliefs, norms, etc.

Counterculture – A subculture that rejects conventional norms and values and adopts alternative ones.

Cultural diffusion – The process by which cultural elements spread from their point of origin to another group or another society.

Cultural innovation – The invention and introduction into a culture of new ideas, objects, or methods of doing things.

Cultural universals – Practices or traits that are found in every known human culture.

Ideal culture – The set of values people claim to believe in, not the culture they express in their actual behaviour.

Real culture – The culture people express in their actual behaviour.

Material culture – The physical and technological aspects of a culture.

Non-material culture – All the aspects of a culture that do not have a physical existence. Eg., values, beliefs, etc.

Ethnocentrism – The tendency for individuals in a society to view their culture (and its values, norms, and beliefs) as superior to others.

Language – An abstract system of sounds (speech), signs (written characters), and gestures (non-verbal communication) by which members of a society express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and desires.

Perception – The way we perceive individuals, institutions, situations, etc.

Predisposition – Being inclined to do or not do something when an issue arises.

Primary group – In a primary group, members have an emotional bond to one another such that the individual’s place in that group can never be filled by another person.

Secondary group – A goal-oriented group formed for a purpose. Members belong because of their interest in the group’s goal, because of the contribution they can make toward achieving it, or because of the contribution group membership can make towards achieving their own goals.

Peer group – A group of interacting companions who usually share similar social characteristics (for example, age, gender, social class, religion, etc), interests, tastes, and values.

Reference group – A group that provides the standards and perspective regulating an individual’s behaviour within a given context, regardless of whether she/he is a member of the group or not.

Social stratification – The process whereby people rank one another in a vertical arrangement – a hierarchy – that differentiates them as superior or inferior.

Socioeconomic status – A social ranking which combines various dimensions of stratification, particularly prestige and wealth. It takes into account a number of factors that determine a person’s social status: income, type of occupation, level of education attained and place of residence, among others.

Status – Socially defined positions in a social institution. One’s status determines how an individual should relate to other people and with whom the individual will interact. Each status usually carries a set of role expectations.

Ascribed status – A social status based on the position into which an individual is born, or characteristics over which he or she exerts no control (age, gender, ethnicity, etc).

Achieved status – A social status based on characteristics over which the individual exerts some control, such as educational attainment, marital status, or type of employment.

Role – Behaviour expected from an individual because of his or her status.

Gender roles – Culturally defined attitudes and behaviours that are widely accepted as appropriate for men and for women.

Socialization – The process through which we learn the dominant beliefs, values, and norms acceptable within our society. The learning process through which individuals develop their personalities and gain a sense of identity.

Primary socialization – This occurs during childhood when the individual learns the culture and lifestyle of his/her own particular group.

Secondary socialization – Learning and adaptation that continues throughout life, building on the primary socialization of childhood.