Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance Cognitive Dissonance How do human beings make decisions? What triggers a person to take action at any given point? These are allquestions that I will attempt to answer with my theoretical research into Leon Festingers theory of cognitive dissonance, as well as many of the other related theories. We often do not realize the psychological events that take place in our everyday lives. It is important to take notice of theories, such as the balance theory, the congruency theory and the cognitive dissonance theory so that ones self-persuasion occurs knowingly. As psychologist and theorist gain a better understanding of Festingers cognitive dissonance theory manipulation could occur more easily than it already does in todays society. Leon Festingers cognitive dissonance theory is very closely related to many of the consistency theories. The first of the major consistency theories, the balance theory, was proposed by Fritz Heider (1946, 1958) and was later revised by Theodore Newcomb (1953) (Larson, 1995).

Heider and Newcombs theory was mostly looking at the interaction between two people (interpersonally) and the conflicts that arose between them. When two people have conflicting opinions or tension is felt between another person, it is more likely persuasion will occur. Because if no tension was felt between the two parties, or there were no conflicting opinions there would be no need to persuade each other. If you think about it persuasion occurs only because there is tension between two facts, ideas or people. Charles Larson writes in his book, Persuasion, Reception and Responsibility, another approach to the consistency theory is congruency theory, by Charles Osgood and Percy Tennenbaum (1955) (p.82). This theory suggest that we want to have balance in our lives and there is a systematic way to numerically figure it out.

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When two attitudes collide we must strive to strike a balance between the two attitudes. The balance varies depending on the intensity we feel about each attitude and our pre-disposed positions concerning the attitude. We either have a favorable , neutral or unfavorable opinion concerning ideas. When two attitudes collide we will attempt to downgrade the favorable position and upgrade the unfavorable position so that we feel a balance. For example, suppose someone thought of Mel Gibson as a good role model.

Later on they come to find out Mel Gibson does not like football. If the person was to like both football and Mel Gibson one of three things would happen: 1) The individual would downgrade their opinion of Mel Gibson, or 2)downgrade football, or 3) downgrade both. The action taken would create psychological consistency in ones mind. These theories are very interesting and have been quite researched, but none more so than Leon Festingers theory of cognitivedissonance. Leon Festingers theory, unlike the others I have described, deal with quantitative aspects, as well as qualitative.

Thats what is so different and revolutionary about Festingers theory. Robert Wicklund and Jack Brehm (1976), in their book Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance, write, Most notably, the original statement of dissonance theory include: propositions about the resistance-to-change of cognitions and about the proportion of cognitions that are dissonant, both of which allowed powerful and innovative analyses of psychological situations (p.1). The term dissonance refers to the relation between two elements. When two elements do not fit together they are considered dissonant. Cognitive dissonance can be broken down into a number of elements.

As Brehm and Cohen (1962) write, A dissonant relationship exist between two cognitive elements when a person possesses one which follows the obverse of another that he possesses. A person experiences dissonance, that is, a motivational tension, when he (or she) has cognitions among which there are one or more dissonant relationships (p.4).Cognitive dissonance can occur intrapersonally as well as betweentwo or more people. With individual cognitive dissonance the individual longs for consistency within their own mind. Second, there exist dissonance between two or more people. This occurs when two people have differing opinions about a particular issue.This phenomenon may have something to do with varying degrees of knowledge about the issue or different belief systems being enacted.

An example of this can be seen by taking a look at the cultures of the West versus cultures of the East. Cultures of the East value loyalty and honor. Cultures of the West have different value systems that often collide with those of the East. Between two parties, dissonance may arise from: (1) logical inconsistency; (2) because of cultural mores: (3) because of a specific opinion; and (4) because of past experience. To reduce cognitive dissonance a person can either reduce the dissonant cognition, or its relative importance can be reduced (Wicklund and Brehm, 1976, p.5).

Although the theory assumes that dissonance will be eliminated or reduced, only the thought about taking action to do so is a given. The means employed by any given individual to meet these ends is still open to speculation. Action taken depends solely on the many variables involved, such as ego involvement, commitment, past experiences and so on. We all react differently to dissonant cognitions that we are confronted with. My research attempts to examine the different reactions that people have had to different opinions I have declared which involve them heavily.

The area I have chosen to look at is the habits which many of my close friends engage in: smoking. This is often a difficult topic to discuss because it is an addictive habit and very personal to many people. Full well knowing these facts, I attempted to delve in the minds of my friends and put many of the theories afore mentioned to use in the practical world. To undertake my research project I observed my friends in their everyday routines. I chose to attempt to persuade many of my friends to stop smoking. While attempting to undertake this momentous task I observed many of the consistency theories, especially Festingers theory of cognitive-dissonance. The research method that was used was first hand observation.

You could say that I was undertaking a form of ethnographic research. Most of the time I had to become an active member of the persuasion process, or the subject of smoking possibly might not have been talked about. The context I chose was that of my friends at home. All of the participants in the study did not know I was logging their behavior for later use in this res …