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Theory of cognitive dissonance

We have learned how installations go into behavior, but it happens that behavior goes into installation. The most influential description of such a sequence of events was the theory of cognitive dissonance proposed by Leon Festinger. As with all theories of cognitive consonance, this theory implies that a person needs cognitive consistency; Two cognitions that do not agree with each other create discomfort that motivates a person to overcome this inconsistency and bring cognition into harmony with each other. This discomfort caused by inconsistency is called cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957).

The theory of cognitive dissonance refers to several types of disagreements, but the greatest interest in it is caused by the proposition that an individual’s behavior contrary to his attitudes creates dissonant pressure to change these attitudes so that they are consistent with this behavior. Further, this theory states that involvement in behavior contrary to attitudes creates the greatest dissonance and, consequently, leads to the greatest change in these attitudes if there are no reasons that balance and are compatible (ie, consistent) with such behavior. This was shown in an experiment that we have already discussed in the context of the theory of perception of oneself - an experiment with the agreement caused by its payment of 1 dollar or 20 dollars (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).

Recall that the subjects in this study were encouraged to tell the next subject who was waiting for the session that the series of boring tasks was actually fun and interesting. The subjects, who were paid $ 20 for this, did not change their attitude to the tasks themselves, but the subjects, who were paid only $ 1, came to the conclusion that they really liked the tasks. According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, if you pay $ 20, a very tempting reason is created for agreeing with the experimenter's request to talk with the waiting subject, and therefore the person feels little dissonance or none at all.
The mismatch between the behavior of the person and his attitude towards the tasks is outweighed by the much greater compatibility between the consent to fulfill the requirement and the promoter of this consent. Accordingly, the subjects, who were paid $ 20, did not change their attitude; however, subjects who were paid only $ 1 had no acceptable (consonant) reason for consent. Accordingly, they felt a dissonance, which they reduced, coming to the conclusion that they really liked the tasks. The general conclusion is that the dissonance-causing behavior leads to a change in attitude in situations with a resultant agreement, where the behavior can be caused by minimal pressure, in the form of reward or punishment.

Experiments with children confirmed the minimum punishment provision. If children obey a very mild requirement not to play with an attractive toy, they begin to believe that this toy is not as attractive as they first thought - their belief is consistent with this conviction that they do not play with it. But if children refrain from playing with this toy under the threat of strict punishment, their strong interest in this toy does not change (Freedman, 1965; Aronson & Carlsmith, 1963).

The theory of cognitive dissonance successfully predicts also a number of other phenomena with a change in attitude and is one of the most well-known in social psychology. Over time, other explanations have been proposed for some of its results. For example, we have seen that not only the theory of cognitive dissonance, but also the theory of perception of oneself can explain the results of an experiment with consensus.

In general, each of these alternative theories generated data that other theories could not explain, and some researchers now concluded that all these theories can be true - each under slightly different circumstances - and that research should focus on when and where each of they apply (Baumeister & Tice, 1984; Paulhus, 1982; Fazio, Zanna & Cooper, 1977).
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Theory of cognitive dissonance

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