What Are Attitudes?

Attitudes are mental predispositions toward people, objects, subjects, events, and so on. In science, attitudes are important because of three primary factors (Martin, 1984, pp. 13–14). First, a child’s attitude carries a mental state of readiness with it. With a positive attitude, a child will perceive science objects, topics, activities, and people positively. A child who is unready or hesitant, for whatever reason, will be less willing to interact with people and things associated with science. This readiness factor occurs unconsciously in a child, without prior thought or overt consent.

Second, attitudes are not innate or inborn. Contemporary psychologists maintain that attitudes are learned and are organized through experiences as children develop (Halloran, 1970; Oskamp, 1977). Furthermore, a child’s attitude can be changed through experience. Teachers and parents have the greatest influence on science attitudes (George & Kaplan, 1998).

Third, attitudes are dynamic results of experiences that act as directive factors when a child enters into new experiences. As a result, attitudes carry an emotional and an intellectual tone, both of which lead to making decisions and forming evaluations. These decisions and evaluations can cause a child to set priorities and hold different preferences. In the scenario, Jessica’s attitude toward science and the way she values it shifts from a negative to a neutral and to even a positive viewpoint. In time, with continued positive experiences and adjustments in her attitude, Jessica may become more open to science, think differently about it, and accumulate more useful ideas and skills—all products of her learning. But all of this begins with her attitude.

Emotional Attitudes

Young children’s attitudes often are more emotional than intellectual. Curiosity, the natural start of it all, may be accompanied by perseverance, a positive approach to failure (or acceptance of not getting one’s own way all the time), and openness to new experiences and even other people’s points of view (tolerance for other children’s ways of playing a favorite game). These are fundamental attitudes that are useful for building specific scientific attitudes that are necessary for success and the continuation of the science cycle.

Intellectual Attitudes

Attitudes based on intellect or rational thought develop simultaneously with science process skill development (a second feature of science) and with the discovery or construction of useful science ideas (the third feature of science). Teacher guidance, learning materials that can be manipulated, and interactive teaching methods help encourage formation of intellectual attitudes. Examples include skepticism and the development of a desire to follow procedures that increase objectivity.

Importance of Attitudes

Younger children tend to have positive attitudes toward science and display many of these attitudes as they explore and interact with classmates. However, over time, these initial positive attitudes may decline.