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Chapter 16—Cognitive Dissonance
- Dissonance: Discord between behavior and belief.
- Identified by Leon Festinger, cognitive dissonance is the distressing mental state that people feel when they find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.
- Humans have a basic need to avoid dissonance and establish consistency.
- The tension of dissonance motivates the person to change either the behavior or the belief.
- The more important the issue and the greater the discrepancy, the higher the magnitude of dissonance.
- Health-conscious smokers: Dealing with dissonance.
- When Festinger first published his theory, he chose the topic of smoking to illustrate the concept of dissonance.
- Perhaps the most typical way for the smoker to avoid anguish is to trivialize or simply deny the link between smoking and cancer.
- Festinger noted that almost all of our actions are more entrenched than the thoughts we have about them.
- Reducing dissonance between attitudes and actions.
- Hypothesis #1: Selective exposure prevents dissonance.
- We avoid information that is likely to increase dissonance.
- People select information that lined up with what they already believed and ignored facts or ideas that ran counter to those beliefs.
- Dieter Frey concluded that selective exposure exists only when information is known to be a threat.
- Warm personal relationships are the best environment for considering discrepant views.
- Hypothesis #2: Post decision dissonance creates a need for reassurance.
- The more important the issue, the more dissonance.
- The longer an individual delays a choice between two equally attractive options, the more dissonance.
- The greater the difficulty in reversing the decision once it has been made, the more dissonance.
- Hypothesis #3: Minimal justification for action induces a shift in attitude.
- Conventional wisdom suggests that to change behavior, you must first alter attitude.
- Festinger reverses the sequence.
- In addition, he predicts that attitude change and dissonance reduction depend on providing only a minimum justification for the change in behavior.
- A classic experiment: “Would I lie for a dollar?”
- Festinger’s minimal justification hypothesis is counterintuitive.
- The Stanford $1/$20 experiment supported the minimal justification hypothesis because subjects who received a very small reward demonstrated a change in attitude.
- Three state-of-the-art revisions: The cause and effect of dissonance.
- Most persuasion researchers today subscribe to one of three revisions of Festinger’s original theory. A process model of cognitive dissonance helps us understand the three:
Attitude/behavior inconsistency ⇒ Dissonance created ⇒ Attitude change ⇒ Dissonance reduced
- Self-consistency: the rationalizing animal.
- Elliot Aronson argued that dissonance is caused by psychological rather than logical inconsistency.
- Inconsistency between a cognition and self-concept causes dissonance.
- Humans aren’t rational, they are rationalizing.
- Research such as the $1/$20 experiment provides evidence of self-esteem maintenance.
- The amount of dissonance a person can experience is directly proportional to the effort he or she has invested in the behavior.
- Personal responsibility for bad outcomes (the new look).
- Joel Cooper argues that we experience dissonance when we believe our actions have unnecessarily hurt another person.
- Cooper concludes that dissonance is a state of arousal caused by behaving in such a way as to feel personally responsible for bringing about an aversive event.
- Self-affirmation to dissipate dissonance.
- Claude Steele focuses on dissonance reduction.
- He believes that high self-esteem is a resource for dissonance reduction.
- Steele asserts that most people are motivated to maintain a self-image of moral and adaptive adequacy.
- These three revisions of Festinger’s theory are not mutually exclusive.
- Theory into practice: Persuasion through dissonance.
- Festinger’s theory offers practical advice for those who wish to affect attitude change as a product of dissonance.
- Apply the concepts of selective exposure, postdecision dissonance, and minimal justification to manage dissonance effectively.
- As long as counterattitudinal actions are freely chosen and publicly taken, people are more likely to adopt beliefs that support what they’ve done.
- Personal responsibility for negative outcomes should be taken into account.
- Critique: Dissonance over dissonance.
- Cognitive dissonance is one of the few theories in this book that has achieved name recognition within popular culture as people have found it practically useful.
- Where the theory falls short is relative simplicity.
- Bem claims that self-perception is a much simpler explanation than cognitive dissonance.
- The theory has also received knocks for how difficult it is to actually observe dissonance.
- If researchers can’t observe dissonance, then the theory’s core hypotheses aren’t testable—a big problem for a scientific theory.
- Patricia Devine applauds researchers who have attempted to gauge the arousal component of dissonance.
- The most promising attempts to develop a dissonance thermometer have used neuroimaging.
- It has provided initial hard evidence that the experience of cognitive dissonance is, indeed, real.
- Even so, actually observing it is difficult and expensive, so even if the theory is testable, it certainly isn’t simple.
- Despite detractors, cognitive dissonance theory has energized objective scholars of communication for 50 years.
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