Introduction: What is Cognitive Dissonance?

Published: 2019-09-03 00:30:00
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The term cognitive dissonance was first theorized by Festinger (1957) and made a significant historic mark I the field of social psychology. The theory of cognitive dissonance is mainly built upon the notion that people will always strive towards consistency. As Festinger (1957) points out, whenever inconsistencies arise, individuals will try rationalizing them so as to reduce any instances of psychological discomfort. For this reason, Festinger (1957) pointed that the term consonance is characterized by consistency while the term dissonance is mainly correlated to inconsistency. As such, Festinger proposes that dissonance arises from logical inconsistencies, inconsistencies between cognition and another encompassing cognition, cultural mores, as well as past experiences. Also, it is vital to point out that there is at least a cognitive element that is dissonant with behavioral elements. Also, while dissonance exists, people will become more motivated I n reducing dissonance, as well as avoid situations that might trigger it. The theory is applied in almost every social aspect of peoples lives. Those in power include those in politics such as political candidates who exercise power on the public. Even in politics, as this research paper proposes, powerful men and women use cognitive dissonance in persuading the public and keeping their power.

As such, the theory is predominantly straightforward and simple to explain o how various people will deal with social inconsistencies. An empirical validation of the theory questions the tanets of behaviorism, which is the main paradigm in psychology. However, the main aspect of cognitive dissonance emanates from the conflict or tension of the mind, where cognitive refers to the mind, while dissonance refers to a state of imbalance. As sum, many individuals find themselves in the state of cognitive dissonance whenever they are faced with two or more conflicting behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs (Festinger, 1957). For example, a smoker who is accustomed to frequent smoking and knows that the action will cause cancer experiences dissonance. Other examples of dissonance include a voter, such as in the American context, to vote for Republicans when he or she has always voted for Democrats. In this case, even when the aspirant proposes better political ramifications, and belongs to the Republicans, the voter will find himself or herself in a state of dissonance, and is in most instances forced to vote based on the previous decisions, which is voting for the Democrats. In addition, a job aspirant who is weighing a decision whether to choose a well-paying job on a city that is far from hers or his and a less paying job that is in the home city will often experience a state of dissonance. He is torn between choosing either options, and will often end up choosing one and downplaying the other.

For this reason, it is an uncomfortable situation, which can often paralyze a person from making a decision, with one pulling the decision maker to one direction, while the other pulling in the opposite direction. In the political context, as this paper theorizes, political leaders seeking to maintain their power always capitalize on cognitive dissonance, regardless of whether they are women or men in keeping their power primarily because they already influenced their belief before. In essence, the political leaders, in every campaign place the audience in such an uncomfortable position primarily because they tend to make the voters believe that they have their best interests in heart. In consequence, they persuade the voters to take actions, mainly by voting in the candidates with the most promising ones that will promote their betterment.

According to McLeod (2008), there is tendency of people to seek consistency in the opinions and beliefs, which are mainly the cognitions. However, as the writer asserts, whenever there is an inconsistency between these beliefs or attitudes, often referred to as dissonance, something has to change that subsequently eliminates the dissonance. McLeod (2008) asserts that dissonance can be eliminated or reduced in three different ways. Firstly, the individual can change one or a variety of attitudes, beliefs, opinions, or behavior so as to make the conflicting elements to be consonant.

For instance, whenever the dissonant elements emanate from behavior, the person can eliminate or change the behavior. Even so, this method or reducing dissonance presents a variety of problems because people find it very difficult to change behavioral mannerisms, such as to quit smoking. For example, in the case of political arena, the voter, being stuck to vote for a democratic or republican candidate when he or she had voted for a democratic one before, can change the attitude against the Republicans, thereby voting for the candidate. Also, in the case of smoking, the smoker can just abruptly have a sudden change of behaviors and does not smoke anymore, however, in this case, it is very difficult for the individual to have a sudden change of behavior. The second way is acquiring new information that stands a strong position to outweigh the conventional or dissonant beliefs or opinions. In the political context, the voter can gain new information about Republicans, such as a variety of political agendas that will definitely improve their life. With the new insight, the voter is more inclined to voting for the Republicans. Thirdly, as McLeod (2008) points out, is reducing the importance of the cognitions, such as attitudes and beliefs. For this reason, the individual will be forced to convince themselves that the Democrats have a better deal that will lead to major life improvements for the citizens than the Republicans or vice versa. In this case, they are forced to believe that the Democrats will have and portray better leadership compared to the Republicans.

Current state of cognitive dissonance research

Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) were the first to test the cognitive dissonance theory in a lab experiment. In their research, they examined what would happen whenever two cognitions did not fit together, such as if a person believes in X but publicly states the contrary, that he or believes in not X. In addition, the researchers also examined how the amount of pressure, which they referred to as the reward, would subsequently influence the dissonance magnitude. In the experiment, Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) asked 71 students to spend an hour in accomplishing boring tasks, then some of the respondents were asked to influence other subjects that the tasks were enjoyable and interesting. In essence, this was dissonance because the participants engaged in boring tasks and forced to lie about it on another subject. To motivate them, one group was paid $1 while the other one was paid $20 in persuading the subjects. The control group participants were not asked to persuade the subjects. In addition, the participants in the control group were asked to rate their private opinions pertaining to whether the tasks were enjoyable and interesting. Inclined to the dissonance theory, the authors expected that the dissonance would in effect reduced by changing the private opinions and the opinion change would be smaller whenever there was a large reward. Essentially, the researchers expected that for the participants who were paid a dollar, the magnitude of the dissonance would be high owing to the small amount of reward, and thus, the opinion change would be significantly higher. On the 20-dollar group, it was expected that the dissonance would be small due to the great reward, and thus, the opinion change would be very high. As the researchers expected, the one-dollar group had more dissonance, and therefore, experienced a greater tendency of changing their opinions that the tasks were interesting and enjoyable. On the contrary, the 20-dollar group changed their opinions and had more likelihood of changing their opinions, thereby influencing the subjects that the task were enjoyable. For this reason, the findings demonstrated that greater rewards provides an external justification or dissonant acts, thereby creating less dissonance, while smaller rewards does not create a tendency to change the opinions. As such, to reduce the instances of dissonance, individuals will tend to change opinions by internalizing what they have done or said before. Festinger and Carlsmiths (1959) research provides the first classic evidence of the cognitive dissonance theory as it shows that whenever a person performs unpleasant task with insufficient reward, her or his cognition of doing the task is dissonant with his cognition or receiving the reward. As such, an individual will reduce any instances of dissonance by seeking various justifications, which may include increasing the goal attractiveness.

In another study conducted by Aronson and Mills (1959) examined whether unpleasant experiences in attaining group membership influences the liking for the group. In consistency with the theory, the researchers expected that people who go through unpleasant experiences to gain the group membership will always develop a liking for the group. In testing their hypothesis, they randomly selected college women and assigned them to three experimental conditions, which were the initiation condition, the mild initiation condition, and the control groups. The initiation group was primarily involved in reading embarrassing materials before joining the group while the mild initiation group encompassed those who read less embarrassing materials before being welcomed to the group. On the other end, the control group were asked to read any materials before gaining access to the group. They were then listened in a banal and dull group discussion. The women who had unpleasant experiences perceived the group to be more attractive compared to those who were subjected to mild embarrassing situations. For this reason, the results supported cognitive dissonance theory as the unpleasant experience was predominantly dissonant with the dull discussion, and thus, the women distorted their existing perceptions on the group in a positive direction thereby reducing dissonance. In addition, Aronson and Carlsmith (1963) also conducted a study that involved preschoolers in disciplinary contexts. The researchers allowed the children to play with a variety of toys, and told them that they were exempted to play with toys that were most attractive. The researchers used a severe threat to dissuade the children from playing with the forbidden toy while in the second group, they were given mild threats to dissuade them from playing with the forbidden toy. The findings revealed that those children who received severe threats did not play with the attractive toy because they had sufficient justifications that they would be punished but for those who received mild threats, they refrained from playing with the forbidden toy but their liking for it significantly dropped. The cognitive Dissonance theorists have revised the theory. One was done by Aronson (1960, 1968 as ctd in Aronson 1992) by drawing attention to expectancies regarding to self-justification, where an individual will maintain a stable, competent, morally good, and predictable self-concept.

Limitation of Cognitive Research Theory

A significant limitation of the cognitive dissonance theory is that it cannot make any predictions on how the dissonance can be reduced, only the options stated by McLeod (2008), but persuaders only wan dissonance to be resolved in aspects that can advance their goals. It does not make any specific predictions, and thus, it cannot be scientifically tested. In addition, it is prone to bias as it relies on assumptions, and does not take into account of the individual differences (Krebs &...

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