How are attitudes formed?

Thanks for the A2A - this is one of my favorite topics.

It would be easy to oversimplify and assert that particular genetic predispositions will be amplified by environmental factors - the classic genotype/phenotype theory. In fact I’ve offered this explanation in response to similar questions before. However…I do think it is an oversimplification, not just because this process is itself incredibly complex, but because there is more going on.

Here are some examples of input streams that I believe impact attitude formation:

Memetic propagation (see Memetics)

Somatic memory (see The lifelong cost of burying our traumatic experiences)

Self-reinforced patterns of ideation
(see Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression as an example)

Enculturation and Groupthink (see What is Groupthink)

Genetic predisposition (see Are beliefs inherited?)

Stressful Environments (see Stanford Prison Experiment)

Family of Origin (see Family of Origin Issues)

Diet (see You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood)

Exercise (see

Relationship choices (friendships, which family ties are maintained, work relationships, romance, etc.).

Karma (in this life, and over multiple lifetimes).

On the one hand, all of these contribute to our self-concept - in both how we interact with the world around us, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It is that narrative identity that excites and maintains some attitude patterns and responses over time. On the other hand, we are a biochemical and spiritual organism that can be conditioned into thinking, feeling and reacting in consistent ways because of past experiences - whether we are conscious of this conditioning or not. Thus there are self-generative and unconscious-reflexive agents at work in our attitude formation.

Lastly, I would say that although many of the sample input streams I listed have negative connotations, they can also contribute to positive outcomes. It is just that we often first become aware of them as barriers to well-being rather than what they are: transformative energies that can be constructive or destructive.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:


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