Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 471: What is Cognitive Dissonance?

This continues from my previous post, check it out. 

One of the more interesting parts in my Psychology Studies was social psychology. Within this branch there is the specific off-shoot called Cognitive Dissonance. Here is a definition from Wikipedia:

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel "disequilibrium": frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc.

Now I  am basing this post on what I read from Social Psychology (Twelfth Edition) by Robert A Baron, Nyla R Branscombe & Donn Byrne.

Here are 2 interesting studies that illustrate cognitive dissonance quite well:

An early version of cognitive dissonance theory appeared in Leon Festinger's 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails. This book gives an account of the deepening of cult members' faith following the failure of a cult's prophecy that a UFO landing was imminent. The believers met at a pre-determined place and time, believing they alone would survive the Earth's destruction. The appointed time came and passed without incident. They faced acute cognitive dissonance: had they been the victim of a hoax? Had they donated their worldly possessions in vain? Most members chose to believe something less dissonant to resolve reality not meeting their expectations: they believed that the aliens had given Earth a second chance, and the group was now empowered to spread the word that earth-spoiling must stop. The group dramatically increased their proselytism despite the failed prophecy.

In Festinger and Carlsmith's classic 1959 experiment, students were asked to spend an hour on boring and tedious tasks (e.g., turning pegs a quarter turn, over and over again). The tasks were designed to generate a strong, negative attitude. Once the subjects had done this, the experimenters asked some of them to do a simple favour. They were asked to talk to another subject (actually an actor) and persuade the impostor that the tasks were interesting and engaging. Some participants were paid $20 (equivalent to $160 in present day terms[9]) for this favour, another group was paid $1 (equivalent to $8 in present day terms[9]), and a control group was not asked to perform the favour.
When asked to rate the boring tasks at the conclusion of the study (not in the presence of the other "subject"), those in the $1 group rated them more positively than those in the $20 and control groups. This was explained by Festinger and Carlsmith as evidence for cognitive dissonance. The researchers theorized that people experienced dissonance between the conflicting cognitions, "I told someone that the task was interesting", and "I actually found it boring." When paid only $1, students were forced to internalize the attitude they were induced to express, because they had no other justification. Those in the $20 condition, however, had an obvious external justification for their behaviour, and thus experienced less dissonance.

Essentially what these studies have shown is that we humans are much more likely to integrate a belief (for example) as a part of our personalities/self definition if there is insufficient alternative justification for us exhibiting whatever behaviour is in question.

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