The words attitude and aptitude are often used interchangeably. After all, it only changes one letter in its spelling. They are paronymous words, which means that they are very similar in the way they are spelled and pronounced, but they have different meanings. In fact, that consonant change changes everything since there is actually a big difference between aptitudes and attitudes, so they are not interchangeable concepts.
What is aptitude exactly?
Aptitude is derived from the Latin word aptus, which means “suitable” so it is often understood as a potentiality, capacity, or even talent. In fact, aptitude refers to the abilities or skills that we have in a certain field of action.
Aptitudes are the essential conditions or requirements that allow us to develop certain skills or even excel in some areas. However, aptitude is not the same as ability or interest, it is a much more specific concept that refers only to certain aspects of human functioning within a limited field of action.
A person with an aptitude for languages, for example, will learn a foreign language faster, but that does not mean that he is an excellent speaker or someone particularly persuasive. The aptitude is specific, it is limited to a certain area and depends on both genetic factors and personal effort.
Bingham’s concept of aptitude indicates that it is “A condition or set of characteristics considered as symptomatic of the ability of an individual to acquire some knowledge, skill or set of responses (usually specific) with training, such as the ability to learn a new language or create music…”
Bingham further stated that aptitude is a measure of a person’s chances of success in certain types of situations, such as playing the violin or playing tennis. Therefore, aptitude is something more than a simple capacity, it could be said that it is the ability plus the suitability in performance.
That means that a person can be very educated because he possesses a large amount of knowledge, but that does not necessarily mean that he is a good teacher, since for this he would need the aptitude that allows him to transmit that knowledge. Aptitude, therefore, is the foundation on which exceptional skills are developed.
What is attitude?
The word attitude comes from the Latin term actus, past tense of àgere which means “to push, to carry something forward”, therefore to act, to do. Words like attitude are born from these roots.Therefore, this concept refers to a person’s predisposition to respond to certain situations consistently.
The attitude contains the way in which we see and evaluate something or someone, so it becomes a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person or situation. In fact, attitudes are usually formed when we come into contact with certain situations, people or groups throughout life.
However, once attitudes have become established, they often exert pressure that pushes us to act in a certain way, when we find ourselves in those situations or have to interact with certain people or specific groups. In fact, the attitude denotes a functional state of readiness that pushes us to react in a characteristic way.
For Cantril, for example, “Attitude is a more or less permanent state of mental disposition that predisposes an individual to react in a characteristic way to any object or situation with which he is related.” In a certain way, it is being for or against certain things, which implies both an emotional predisposition and a cognitive assessment of things, two factors that ultimately give rise to certain behaviors.
Obviously, attitudes can be maintained at a basic level by simply generating a reaction of liking or disliking a certain situation or person. However, attitudes with a more complex affective or intellectual component can induce reactions of love or hate, anger or contempt, fear or anxiety.
The main difference between attitude and aptitude lies in their origin
Obviously, attitude is not the same as aptitude. The main difference between attitudes and aptitudes must be found in the origin of both concepts. While attitude is often the result of our beliefs and opinions, arising primarily from our life experiences, aptitude refers to a facility to acquire new skills through experience, a capacity that often has a genetic component.
In fact, many abilities are innate. There are people who are born with a natural ability to carry out some tasks or who learn them with extreme ease because they have a greater capacity for it. On the other hand, the attitude refers to a fundamentally acquired predisposition before the circumstances of life. It is the result of our beliefs and emotions, being strongly influenced by experiences and environmental factors.
This difference between attitude and aptitude also determines its persistence over time. While it is true that some attitudes can be particularly rigid and resistant to change, generally the aptitude remains more constant due to its innate imprint. Aptitudes do not usually experience great variations over the years.
In contrast, attitudes, as they are more linked to personality and living conditions, have a more fluid and versatile nature. It may be easier for a person to change his attitude towards infidelity or homosexuality than to develop the aptitude to play a musical instrument skillfully. As a general rule, it is easier to promote or change an attitude than to develop a skill from scratch.
Attitude or aptitude: What is more important?
Aptitude is the ability of a person to acquire a new skill, while attitude shows the predisposition of it in certain situations. Although different, both are important.
At a professional level, for example, we will not get far if we have good skills, but a bad attitude, since interpersonal clashes, the reluctance that we show in our work and rigidity in ideas will end up becoming an obstacle to our development.
However, we also won’t get very far if we have a great attitude but lack the aptitude. There are certain areas where skills are particularly important, such as music or art. Since some skills are more difficult to develop than others, having them “out of the box” will greatly smooth the path, giving us an additional advantage.
Therefore, trying to choose between attitude or aptitude by giving more weight to one or the other does not make much sense. In general, it is important to know our skills. Being aware of what we are best at, what we can do more fluently and with less effort. What we enjoy and for which we feel we were born, because we do it as naturally as breathing.
Once our special “talents” are detected, we must ensure that we develop those skills with practice and accompany them with the right attitudes. The right attitude towards life can not only open many doors for us, it can also help us to be more optimistic, face obstacles with greater serenity and make better decisions. Therefore, we need to make sure that aptitudes and attitudes always go hand in hand. This way we will be able to feel more fulfilled and satisfied.
Eagly, A. H. (1992) Uneven progress: Social psychology and the study of attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 63(5): 693–710.
Snow, R. E. (1992) Aptitude Theory: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Educational Psychologist; 27(1): 5-32.
Sherif, M., & Cantril, H. (1947) The psychology of ego-involvements: Social attitudes and identifications. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Bingham, W. V. (1942) The army personnel classification system. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences; 220: 18-28.