Relationships between cognitions
Consonants: “ I believe safer sex is important, and I always use condoms”
o Ideas that go together; harmonious
Dissonance: believing safer sex is important but not using a condom
o Occurs when thoughts (cognitions) are in conflict with each other (dissonance)
o Festinger argues that this conflict creates a physiological distress or conflict
o Naturally unpleasant and forms a state of uneasiness
o How do we reduce this state? Festinger argues this is done in the mind; regaining
homeostatic equilibrium of feeling good by changing behaviour (e.g. I’m going to start
using condoms). Another way is to reduce the importance of one of the elements
causing the conflict (dissonance). One other way is by adding another element to reduce
o Festinger claims that we are dissonance reducing machines. We constantly push away
o Freud would argue this method is form of ego defense.
o However, it is often hard to change our behaviour (can’t change a behaviour that has
been committed) and it is easier to change our cognitions (e.g. reasoning)
o Festinger studied a cult and their prediction of apocalyptic events. When an apocalypse
doesn’t happen, the cult leader usually will reason to reduce dissonance.
o An experiment with asking people to lie and were given a money incentive. Festinger
expected those paid the $20 would lie the most, however, it was the opposite (cognitive
dissonance theory). The $20 subject has a significant justification to lie however the $1
subject did not and thus a cognitive dissonance arose and so they change their attitudes
to make their lie not a lie.
o Aronson & Mills: women underwent a mild or severe initiation process to gain
admission to a discussion group about sexuality.
Some women read words sexual in nature but more clinical (mild iniation) and
some women read words that were erotic nature (severe initiation).
The prize they get to going through initiation is minimal: get to listen to others
talk about animal sexuality; can’t participate.
Who should like this experience? The one undergoes mild or severe initiation?
Dissonance theory suggests that the person who underwent severe initiation
would like this experiences because they convince themselves that this prize
was worth it (dissonance reduced)
E.g. hazing is useful but unethical method of keeping people in a group. The
more severe the hazing, the more dissonance is created and more likely one will
be committed to a group.
o Aronson & Carlsmith (1963)
Children told not to play with an attractive toy under threat of either mild or
No children played with the attractive toy
Children in mild threat condition rated toy as less attractive that those in severe
Replication by Freedman (1965) but used a follow up visit by children to lab and
recognized that the attitude effect persisted 3 weeks later when there was no
Mild threat doesn’t play with the toy and severe threat children play with it. o Dickerson et al. (1992)
Experimenter had young women sign a publically displayed poster saying that
they supported water conservation
Some women then asked about average length of showers (hypocrisy induction)
Hypocrisy induction after public commitment led to much shorter showers.
Those who only signed poster or who were only asked about average shower
DID NOT take shorter showers.
o Spreading of Alternatives
After choosing between two similar choice alternatives each with relative
advantages and disadvantages, dissonance should be produced
Why? Because making a choice means incurring some disadvantages (from the
option we choose) and forgoing some advantages (from the option we do not
choose) (e.g. buy the car that is cheaper but doesn’t have a great sound
How can a person then resolve this dissonance?
According to a study by Jack Brehm, people would often try to spread
Had housewives rank a variety of consumer products 1 to 8. After
making decisions can have an item bth coulth’t have the items that they
ranked highest but could had their 4 and 5 choices.
Housewives were asked to rerank the choices and were given
information about the advantages and disadvantages of each product.
The housewives display a spread of alternatives and reranked the
product they chose higher because of the information they have read.
o Daryl Bem
Challenged the Dissonance theory with this self-perception theory.
People look at what they do and infer how they feel.
Challenges the idea that motivating arousal is necessary for attitude change
Especially likely when attitudes are weak (e.g. not much knowledge or
experience with the object or topic or event).
Self perception is more related to attribution whereas cognitive dissonance is
more related to cognitive consistency
o Is Dissonance a universal experience?
Some people seem to have a higher tolerance for dissonant cognitions and thus
likely to exhibit dissonance arousal
Western societies emphasize consistency in behaviour more than do many
others. This may derive from different philosophical traditions. Therefore it is
easier for dissonance arousal to occur in Western traditions than in collectivistic
traditions such as Confucianism.
People from collectivistic is more likely to experience dissonance even if they
are only observing someone else in a collectivistic experience (e.g. if someone
feels a connection between the action of another they may form a connection
and change their attitudes).
o Tripartite model of attitude structure
o Challenges of measuring attitudes (validity): are you getting at want you are aiming for?
Is the subject lying? Are the variables being measured correctly?
o Attitude-Behaviour relationship is bi-directional o The stronger the attitud