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Cognitive Dissonance

 Cognitive Dissonance: One of the most influential approaches in social psychology is the principle of cognitive consistency provided by Heider (1946). It proposed that our attitudes change because we are motivated to maintain consistency among our cognitions. In 1957, Festinger proposed simple cognitive distance theory according to which, we feel tension (‘dissonance’) when we become aware of two simultaneous inconsistent cognitions. In order to reduce this unpleasant arousal, we often adjust our thinking.

The theory of dissonance demonstrates the divergence between behaviour and attitudes. Since we are aware of both behaviour and attitudes so if there exist some hypocrisy, we feel pressure for change. In an experiment conducted by Festinger and Carlsmith (1959), students were asked to spend an hour on boring and tedious tasks (e.g. turning wooden knobs again and again). The tasks were designed to generate a strong, negative attitude. After the experiment, the students were asked to lie that the tasks were interesting to the experimenter’s assistant. Some participants were paid $20 for this and another group was paid $1 and a control group was not asked to perform the favour. In the lasts the students were asked to actually rate the boring tasks.

After observing the ratings, it was found that contrary to operant conditioning principles, those in the $1 group rated the task more positively than those in the $20 and control groups. Festinger and Carlsmith explained this as a perfect evidence for cognitive dissonance. People paid only small amounts of money have less justification for their inconsistency, tend to experience more dissonance, and hence change their attitudes more. This is referred to as the less-leads-to-more effect.

Later in 1969, Aronson reformulated the basic theory by adding one’s self concept. According to him, cognitive dissonance does not arise because people experience dissonance between contradictory cognitions. It actually occurs when people see their actions as conflicting with their normally positive view of themselves. Smoking is one real life example of cognitive dissonance. As people find excuses making more convenient than to change the behaviour, the dissonance theory leads to the conclusion that humans rationalize rather than be rational. In parenting, the dissonance theory suggests that parents should try to draw out desired behaviour without threats, thus, motivating children to internalize the appropriate attitudes. Post-decision dissonance is another implication of the dissonance theory. Post-decision dissonance refers to dissonance experienced after making a decision regarding the possibility of it being wrong. In order to reduce this dissonance, people often rationalize and change their perceptions. They might justify supporting the decision.

According to some studies, dissonance can be used to generate hypocrisy as a powerful tool for beneficial changes in people’s behaviour. When people fail to practice what they advocate, the cognitive dissonance is induced by their act of hypocrisy. All this help the people to change their behaviour. Cultural factors play an important role in influencing the operation of cognitive dissonance. The desire to engage in cognitively consistent actions may not be uniform across cultures

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