Throwback Post: The Attitude-Behavior Gap

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!


Photo credit: Mitch Tobin

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! 🙂

What is the attitude-behavior gap?

Sometimes referred to as the value-action gap, the attitude-behavior gap is the difference between what people believe, and how people 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. Starting tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of the more popular theories, and then toss out a couple of my own. Here are four of them in a nutshell:

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, change (behavior, action) will not occur. So without a doubt, a lack of education can be a big contributor to the gap.

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, as we see in another popular theory about the cause of the gap: fear of change. Simply put, people don’t like to change. Familiar brands are comfortable, habits are safe, and there are very few surprises in store from the same action we’ve performed for years. This one goes hand-in-hand with the belief that there are few to no options. This is the all-or-nothing trap that says “if I can’t do this particular thing/buy this specific item/think this exact way, I can’t do/buy/think 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 don’t believe that their $10 will 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 they just don’t sign or vote.

So with these popular thoughts on the reasons 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!


One thought on “Throwback Post: The Attitude-Behavior Gap

  1. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series! There is so often a disconnect between how people present themselves and how they actually are. I don’t know if you’ve considered looking at “slacktivism” but I think it falls along these lines.

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