PSYCH253 Lecture Notes - Cognitive Dissonance, When Prophecy Fails, Gold Bar
COGNITIVE DISSONANCE THEORY
Cognitive dissonance is aroused whenever someone holds two cognitions that are psychologically
I smoke vs. smoke is going to kill me
You need to resolve the dissonance – Either “Smoking is not bad after all” or “I’ll quit smoking”
Festinger, 1957 – How can someone continue to smoke when he knows smoking is bad?
Early exploration into Dissonance
1. When prophecy fails
A woman said that she talked to aliens and the aliens will destroy the world, but they wanted to
save a few people who were their followers. The people who joined this cult, sold everything
they have and prepared for the end of the world.
Great example of Cognitive Dissonance – you sell everything you own and preparing for the end
of the world
How to resolve: Either “They have wrong data” or “Aliens were so impress to the devotion of
these people so they did what the aliens told them. Because of these, the aliens saved the
2. Brehm, 1956- Free Choice Paradigm
Had a bunch of people, home makers, there is a toaster and a blender and asked the Ps abt their
choice. Before they were given the choice, they rated them on a bunch of dimensions.
The Rs offered them the blender and toaster thought those were not the ones being looked for.
The Ps will pick one and take it home.
People felt better after they chose the ones they don’t need. “this toaster is perfect!”
The thing they chose was rated higher while the thing they don’t choose rated lower.
Predicted that the dissonance is – everything positive and negative about what you didn’t
choose is dissonance of your choice.
Whenever you make a choice, you’ll make yourself believe that it is a good choice.
3. Festinger and Carlsmith - The free choice paradigm became force compliance paradigm
Control experiment – rated a boring experiment
Ask the Ps be the confederate, and will tell the other Ps that the experiment was interesting
though it is boring. Hence, will pay you 1 dollar or 20 dollars.
You know it’s boring like hell, so how will you tell the others it’s fun and exciting?
Resolve: “you’re going to agree with the statement more if you were rewarded by saying the
statement.” Or “if you’re paid a little money for it, you’ll agree to do it less.”
Results: 1 dollar lie – Ps under this condition changed their attitudes 9they rated the experiment
high); 20 dollar lie- Ps under this condition didn’t change their attitude (rated the experiment
Rationalization: acting inconsistently in one’s belief + without a good reason for doing so =
dissonance ( to reduce dissonance, one’s belief will change.
Acting inconsistently in one belief = with a good reason for doing so (I have enough money) =
would not produce dissonance (therefore, one’s belief would not change)
4. Force compliance Paradigm (cont. of free choice)
They asked people to do things they didn’t want to do and gave Ps good reason, no reason, or
bad reason for doing it.
Write an essay they don’t believe in : university students to write in favor of tuition fee increase
High choice condition: When asked, everybody said yes. Reason: barely needed, forced
Low choice condition: When asked, they had a choice.
You will change your attitude by thinking good benefits about the tuition increase.
When students were forced, they don’t have dissonance.
5. Aronson and Mills – Effort Justification
They brought in young women university students – all agreed to participate in a study about
Before participating in the study, they were asked if they can handle it and won’t create any
Modulate Initiation: They read one averagely liberated article.
Severe initiation: They read an intensely hot article in front of a young male
The discussion turned out to be a biology discussing about grasshopper.
Women in severe condition reported much interest in the boring discussion than those with no
initiation and modulate initiations.
Bem says we don’t need all that inconsistent cognitions stuff; we watch our own behaviour and
infer our attitudes from what we see.
He replicated Festinger & Carlsmith and observers made inferences about the subject’s
behaviour that was consistent with the subject’s attitude change.
You might start to believe if you’re watching somebody else
*went to day care
*C1: just let them see the colors and didn’t ask them to make a picture
*C2: if you make me a really nice picture, I’ll give you a gold bar
*C3: let them do the picture and give gold bars after
*When kids expected the reward,
*When kids have an unexpected reward