Throwback Post: The Attitude-Behavior Gap


Photo credit: Mitch Tobin

This article was originally posted back in January. I had intended to complete this series right away, but the first part of the year got away from me, and here we are. Hope you enjoy the recap, and be back tomorrow for part two!

Whew, this is going to be a big one.

I’ve procrastinated putting up this series for a long time. I’ll be honest, I’m a little concerned about alienating people with this one. I’ll cover some basic observable bits, but when I get into the philosophizing (as you all know I am prone to do), please toss a grain or two of salt on my words. I’d love to not lose any friends over the next few posts! 🙂

Firstly, what is the attitude-behavior gap?

Sometimes referred to as the value-action gap, the attitude-behavior gap is the space in between how people would like to live and how people actually behave. For example, ask a group of random strangers on the street if they think exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and I suspect every one of them will say yes. Ask that same group of people how many of them actually exercise on a regular basis, and you may find that only four out of ten of them have a workout plan in place. The difference between the two numbers is the attitude-behavior gap.

There are several theories regarding why this gap exists. I’ll talk about some of the more popular theories, and toss out a couple of my own.

One of the most popular reasons for the gap is ignorance. I’m not trying to be offensive here. I’m referring to ignorance in its most basic form: for example, a person who has never heard of the city of Blue Springs, MO can hardly be expected to know anything about its demographics, its economics, or its politics. That person is ignorant about Blue Springs. Unless this person actually lives in Blue Springs, they can’t really be faulted for this ignorance. BUT, if the person decided they wanted to move to Blue Springs and create a politically-driven organization there, they would need to become educated about the city in order to be effective.

In this way, if a person has ideals (attitudes, values) but no education about those ideals, the change (behavior, action) will not occur. So without a doubt, a lack of education can be a big contributor to the gap. If a consumer has no idea whether or not their favorite products are being produced ethically, how can they make informed decisions about their spending?

Education is a relatively easy problem to tackle. With social media and digital communication so prevalent in our world, raising awareness is a fairly simple process. But what do people do with the information they receive? Unfortunately, the availability of education often isn’t enough.

Another popular theory about the cause of the gap is fear of change. Simply put, people don’t like to change. Familiar brands are comfortable, frequented stores are homey, and there are very few surprises in store from a product bought for years. This one goes hand-in-hand with the belief that there are few to no options. This is the trap that says “if I can’t do it this way/buy this item/think this way, I can’t at all.”

And lastly (for my series) people don’t really believe that their actions can cause positive change. This one almost speaks for itself. People don’t boycott because they believe that their $10 won’t make a difference (many people don’t donate to good causes for the same reason, incidentally). People don’t believe that their signature on a petition or their vote on a ballot will have any impact.

So with these popular thoughts on the reason behind the attitude-behavior gap, I present to you my new series. Stay tuned as we address these big concepts and I attempt to maintain my sanity and preserve my friendships!


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