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A Theory Of Cognitive Dissonance

Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance has been widely recognized for its important and influential concepts in areas of motivation and social psychology. The theory of dissonance is here applied to the problem of why partial reward, delay of reward , and effort expenditure during training result in increased resistance to extinction.

A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance

The author contends that a state of impasse exists within learning theory largely because some of its major assumptions stand in apparent opposition to cetain well-established experimental results. The book puts forward a new theory that seems to reconcile these data and assumptions. This new theory can account for data with which other theories have difficulty: it integrates empirical phenomena that have been regarded as unrelated, and it is supported by the results of experiments designed specifically to test its implications. These experiments are fully described in the text.

Notice that dissonance theory does not state that these modes of dissonance reduction will actually work, only that individuals who are in a state of cognitive dissonance will take steps to reduce the extent of their dissonance.

The theory of cognitive dissonance has been widely researched in a number of situations to develop the basic idea in more detail, and various factors have been identified which may be important in attitude change.

Being paid only $1 is not sufficient incentive for lying and so those who were paid $1 experienced dissonance. They could only overcome that dissonance by coming to believe that the tasks really were interesting and enjoyable. Being paid $20 provides a reason for turning pegs, and there is, therefore, no dissonance.

Participants in the control group were simply given one of the products. Because these participants did not make a decision, they did not have any dissonance to reduce. Individuals in the low-dissonance group chose between a desirable product and one rated 3 points lower on an 8-pointscale.

Participants in the high-dissonance condition chose between a highly desirable product and one rated just 1 point lower on the 8-point scale. After reading the reports about the various products, individuals rated the products again.

If we put effort into a task that we have chosen to carry out, and the task turns out badly, we experience dissonance. To reduce this dissonance, we are motivated to try to think that the task turned out well.

It is a theory with very broad applications, showing that we aim for consistency between attitudes and behaviors and may not use very rational methods to achieve it. It has the advantage of being testable by scientific means (i.e., experiments).

However, there is a problem from a scientific point of view because we cannot physically observe cognitive dissonance, and therefore we cannot objectively measure it (re: behaviorism). Consequently, the term cognitive dissonance is somewhat subjective.

There are also individual differences in whether or not people act as this theory predicts. Highly anxious people are more likely to do so. Many people seem able to cope with considerable dissonance and not experience the tensions the theory predicts.

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the perception of contradictory information and the mental toll of it. Relevant items of information include a person's actions, feelings, ideas, beliefs, values, and things in the environment. Cognitive dissonance is typically experienced as psychological stress when persons participate in an action that goes against one or more of those things.[1] According to this theory, when two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, people do all in their power to change them until they become consistent.[1][2] The discomfort is triggered by the person's belief clashing with new information perceived, wherein the individual tries to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.[1][2][3]

In When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World (1956) and A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957), Leon Festinger proposed that human beings strive for internal psychological consistency to function mentally in the real world.[1] A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance.[1][2] They tend to make changes to justify the stressful behavior, either by adding new parts to the cognition causing the psychological dissonance (rationalization) or by avoiding circumstances and contradictory information likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance (confirmation bias).[1][2][3]

Coping with the nuances of contradictory ideas or experiences is mentally stressful. It requires energy and effort to sit with those seemingly opposite things that all seem true. Festinger argued that some people would inevitably resolve the dissonance by blindly believing whatever they wanted to believe.[4]

The term "magnitude of dissonance" refers to the level of discomfort caused to the person. This can be caused by the relationship between two different internal beliefs, or an action that is incompatible with the beliefs of the person.[2] Two factors determine the degree of psychological dissonance caused by two conflicting cognitions or by two conflicting actions:

There is always some degree of dissonance within a person as they go about making decisions, due to the changing quantity and quality of knowledge and wisdom that they gain. The magnitude itself is a subjective measurement since the reports are self relayed, and there is no objective way as yet to get a clear measurement of the level of discomfort.[6]

Cognitive dissonance theory proposes that people seek psychological consistency between their expectations of life and the existential reality of the world. To function by that expectation of existential consistency, people continually reduce their cognitive dissonance in order to align their cognitions (perceptions of the world) with their actions.

The creation and establishment of psychological consistency allows the person affected with cognitive dissonance to lessen mental stress by actions that reduce the magnitude of the dissonance, realized either by changing with or by justifying against or by being indifferent to the existential contradiction that is inducing the mental stress.[3] In practice, people reduce the magnitude of their cognitive dissonance in four ways:

Three cognitive biases are components of dissonance theory. There is a bias where one feels they do not have any biases. The bias where one is "better, kinder, smarter, more moral and nicer than average" is confirmation bias.[7]

Based on a brief overview of models and theories related to cognitive consistency from many different scientific fields, such as social psychology, perception, neurocognition, learning, motor control, system control, ethology, and stress, it has even been proposed that "all behaviour involving cognitive processing is caused by the activation of inconsistent cognitions and functions to increase perceived consistency"; that is, all behaviour functions to reduce cognitive inconsistency at some level of information processing.[8] Indeed, the involvement of cognitive inconsistency has long been suggested for behaviors related to for instance curiosity,[9][10] and aggression and fear,[11][12] while it has also been suggested that the inability to satisfactorily reduce cognitive inconsistency may - dependent on the type and size of the inconsistency - result in stress.[8][13]

Another method to reduce cognitive dissonance is through selective exposure theory. This theory has been discussed since the early days of Festinger's discovery of cognitive dissonance. He noticed that people would selectively expose themselves to some media over others; specifically, they would avoid dissonant messages and prefer consonant messages.[14] Through selective exposure, people actively (and selectively) choose what to watch, view, or read that fit to their current state of mind, mood or beliefs.[15] In other words, consumers select attitude-consistent information and avoid attitude-challenging information.[16] This can be applied to media, news, music, and any other messaging channel. The idea is, choosing something that is in opposition to how you feel or believe in will increase cognitive dissonance.

In fact, recent research has suggested that while a discrepancy between cognitions drives individuals to crave for attitude-consistent information, the experience of negative emotions drives individuals to avoid counterattitudinal information. In other words, it is the psychological discomfort which activates selective exposure as a dissonance-reduction strategy.[18]

The early hypothesis of belief contradiction presented in When Prophecy Fails (1956) reported that faith deepened among the members of an apocalyptic religious cult, despite the failed prophecy of an alien spacecraft soon to land on Earth to rescue them from earthly corruption. At the determined place and time, the cult assembled; they believed that only they would survive planetary destruction; yet the spaceship did not arrive to Earth. The confounded prophecy caused them acute cognitive-dissonance: Had they been victims of a hoax? Had they vainly donated away their material possessions? To resolve the dissonance between apocalyptic, end-of-the-world religious beliefs and earthly, material reality, most of the cult restored their psychological consonance by choosing to believe a less mentally-stressful idea to explain the missed landing: that the aliens had given planet Earth a second chance at existence, which, in turn, empowered them to re-direct their religious cult to environmentalism and social advocacy to end human damage to planet Earth. On overcoming the confounded belief by changing to global environmentalism, the cult increased in numbers by proselytism.[22] 041b061a72

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