CH 6: THE NEED TO JUSTIFY OUR ACTIONS
Oct 22/2011 – Pg. 160-185
1. Maintaining a
Stable Positive Self
The Theory of Cognitive - Cognitive dissonance (Festinger) is a feeling of discomfort caused by performing an action
Dissonance that runs counter to one’s customary conception of oneself.\
Cognitive Dissonance - Dissonance is most powerful and most upsetting when people behave in ways that threaten
- There are 3 ways for us to reduce dissonance:
1. By changing our behaviour to bring it in line with the dissonant cognition
2. By attempting to justify our behaviour through changing one of the dissonant cognitions
3. By attempting to justify our behaviour by adding new cognitions.
o Ex. If you are a smoker, you are likely to experience dissonance because you know
this behaviour can lead to a painful death.
o The most direct way to change this dissonance is to give up smoking
o However, most smokers quit then relapse into heavy smoking again because they
lower their perception of the dangers of smoking.
o Smokers convince themselves the data linking cigarette smoking to cancer are
inconclusive or believe that filters trap most of the harmful chemicals
o Some add a cognition – ‘look at my grandfather, he’s 87 years old and he’s been
smoking a pack a day since he was 12.
- An additional way to reduce dissonance is by bolstering the self-concept in a different domain
o A smoker may remind herself of the things she does well.
Why we overestimate the pain of disappointment
- Gilbert and Wilson suggest that when people think about how they will react to future negative
Impact Bias events, they show an impact bias, whereby the overestimate the intensity and duration of their
negative emotional reactions.
- Reducing dissonance is largely unconscious, thus even though people reduced dissonance in
the past, they can’t anticipate they’ll do it in the future.
Rational Behavior vs.
Rationalizing Behavior - The need to maintain our self esteem leads to thinking that is not always rational; it is
o Ex. (Jones and Kohler 1959) selected people who were deeply committed to a
position on the issue of racial segregation and presented them with arguments on both
sides of the issue – some arguments were plausible and some were silly. Which of the
arguments would people remember best?
o A silly argument that supports your own position causes dissonance because it raises
doubts about the wisdom of that position or the intelligence
o A sensible argument on the other side arouses some dissonance because it raises the
possibility that the other side might be closer to the truth than you thought.
o Participants remembered the plausible arguments agreeing with their own position
and the implausible arguments agreeing with the opposing position.
Distorting our Likes and Dislikes
- In any decision, the chosen alternative is seldom entirely positive and the rejected alternative is
seldom entirely negative.
- Postdecision dissonance: dissonance aroused after making a decision, typically reduced by
enhancing the attractive of the chosen alternative and devaluing the rejected alternatives. o Brehm: asked women to rate the attractiveness of a several appliances and as a
reward, she could have an appliance as a gift.
o She was given a choice between one of the two products she had rated as being
o 20 minutes later, when each woman was asked to rerate all the products, after
receiving the appliance of their choice, the women rated its attractiveness somewhat
higher than they had the first time and the rejected appliance as much lower.
The Permanence of the Decision
- The more important the decision, the greater the dissonance.
o Ex. Psychologists asked people who were on their way to place horse bets and asked
them how certain they were then asked other bettors who were leaving the $2
o People who already placed their bets gave their horses a much better chance of
winning than those who hadn’t yet placed their bets.
o Ex.2 : Gilbert and Ebert assigned a Harvard photography class to 2 conditions: 1) the
students were informed they had the option to exchange one of the 2 photos they took
within 5 days. 2) The photo they chose initially was final.
o Found that prior to choosing between the 2 photographs, the differences in linking
o Results showed that students who could exchange ended up liking the one they
finally ended up with less than those who made the final choice on the first day.
- Even though the students were asked to predict whether keeping their options open would make
them more or less happy with their decision, they were wrong.
Creating the Illusion of Irrevocability
Lowballing - Lowballing: where a salesman induces a customer to agree to purchase a product at a very low
cost, subsequently claims it was an error and then raises the price; frequently, the customer will
agree to make the purchase of the inflated price.
- Lowballing works because:
1. Signing a check for a down payment creates the illusion of irrevocability
2. Feeling of commitment triggered the anticipation of an exciting event; driving out with a
3. Although the final price is substantially higher than the customer thought it would be, it is
probably only slightly higher than at another dealership.
The decision to Behave Immorally
- After you cheat, you develop a more lenient attitude toward cheating, convincing yourself that
everyone does it
- If you didn’t cheat, you could change your attitude about the morality of the act, convincing
yourself that cheating is a heinous sin
How Dissonance affects Personal Values
o Ex. Mills measured the attitudes of 6 graders towards cheating, giving them a
competitive exam and arranged the situation so it was almost impossible to win
without cheating, he also made it really easy to cheat.
o Students who cheated actually developed a more lenient attitude towards cheating
Justifying Your Effort