Sunday, September 22, 2013

Day 451: Cognitive Dissonance

This post continues from my previous posts starting here - please read for context.

Cognitive Dissonance:  An internal state that results when individuals notice inconsistency between two or more attitudes or between their attitudes and their behaviour.

The ideas reflected in cognitive dissonance theory first came to Leon Festinger as he read about a group in Chicago who were convinced that the end of the world was near, and in fact, a date was set for its demise. Festinger speculated about what would happen when the group's prophecy failed, and the world did not end on the specified date. According to cognitive dissonance theory, the group was faced with two dissonant cognitions: "we predicted the end of the world on a certain date" and "that date has undeniably passed, and the world has not ended." After disconfirmation of the prophecy, if cognitive dissonance theory was correct, the group members would not conclude their belief in the prophecy had been wrong, but instead they would seek to add followers to reaffirm the rightness of their beliefs. 
Festinger reasoned that adding followers to the group would provide a consonant cognition: Great numbers of faithful believers couldn't be wrong. As we say previously in the section on attitude certainty, adding numbers of believers is likely to heighten consensus, thereby increasing the perceived correctness of their attitudes toward the prophecy. When the date had passed, the group reported that the Earth had been spared because of their strong faith, and that they should begin an urgent search to add people to the group of  believers (Festinger, Riecken, & Schachter, 1956).
The first formal test of his theory of cognitive dissonance gave rise to a classic paper in Social Psychology (Festinger & Carlesmith, 1959) Participants in this experiment were first asked to engage in an extremely boring series of tasks - such as turning pegs in a board full of holes. After the task was over, the experimenter made an unusual request: He told participants that on e of the research assistants had not shown up that day and asked if they would please "fill in" by greeting the next participant and telling that person that the task to be performed would be an interesting one. Festinger told half of these participants that they would be paid twenty dollars if they would tell this fib to the waiting participant, and the other half were told that they would receive one dollar for doing so. After doing the favour of telling the person waiting the fib about the experiment, the participants were asked to report their own attitudes toward the boring task (ie, rate how interesting the tasks were). 
The participants who were paid 20 dollars rated the task as less interesting than participants who were paid one dollar.If you were rewarded more generously for praising the task, shouldn't you feel more positively about it? No! To understand why not, let's look at the psychological forces at play in this situation: Most people don't think of themselves as liars, but the participants had indeed been induced to lie to a peer. And, though they were lured into it, they nevertheless endured some discomfort over the conflict between two inconsistent cognitions. When you were paid twenty dollars, you would have had a justification for your lying but not if you were paid one dollar to tell that same fib. So, the problem is that, if given insufficient justification for you behaviour, a situation that was more true in the on-dollar condition (tha n the twenty-dollar condition) of the experiment, there is greater need to reduce your dissonance. In the one-dollar case, the money explanation for your behaviour is not convincing to yourself. 
What do people do to reduce their greater cognitive dissonance in the one-dollar condition? Easy. They change the cognition that is causing the problem. Because in this example, you can't change the lie you told (ie, deny your behaviour), you can decide it wasn't really a lie at all by "making" the boring task more interesting and reporting your attitude as being more positive in the one-dollar condition than in the twenty-dollar condition.- Social Psychology (Twelfth Edition) by Robert A Baron, Nyla R Branscombe, & Donn Byrne

My ramblings to follow in the next post...

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