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Cognitive Dissonance

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Running head: ISSUE ANALYSIS: COGNITIVE DISSONANCE Issue Analysis: Cognitive Dissonance Jason Hruby June 11, 2009 Issue Analysis: Cognitive Dissonance Summary of Pro and Con Sides of Cognitive Dissonance The question addressed and analyzed in this paper is: Does cognitive dissonance explain why behavior can change attitudes? The position that cognitive dissonance does explain why behavior can change attitudes is presented by Festinger and Carlsmith (1959). The position that cognitive dissonance does not explain why behavior can change attitudes is presented by Bem (1967) the creator of the self-perception theory, the theory used to dispute cognitive dissonance. The question of whether behavior changes attitudes or attitudes change behavior is the core of the argument presented. The theory of cognitive dissonance which was originally proposed by Festinger in 1957, suggested that people strive to maintain consistency in one's attitudes and actions, and when a contradiction exists between one's attitudes and actions, one will experience psychological tension. Accordingly, the theory of cognitive dissonance stated, "people sometimes change their attitudes in order to reduce the psychological tension that is produced by the contradiction between their actions and attitudes" (Nier, 2007, p. 75). Behavior can, therefore, change attitudes. Does cognitive dissonance explain why behavior can change attitude? This is the question sought to be answered. As presented by Festinger and Carlsmith & Gross (1969) they feel this is a true statement. The theory of cognitive dissonance was first proposed by Festinger in 1957 and it suggested that people will strive to maintain consistency in one's attitudes and actions. ...read more.


People like consonance among their cognitions. We do not know whether this stems from the nature of the human organism or whether it is learned during the process of socialization, but people appear to prefer cognitions that fit together to those that do not. It is this simple observation that gives the theory of cognitive dissonance its interesting form. Cognitive dissonance and consonance theory is basic to understanding human thought and behavior (Flesher, 2008). It describes how our beliefs interact with each other, our resistance to new beliefs, and what dynamics are involved when we do change our beliefs. We experience cognitive dissonance and consonance on a day-to-day basis as we process all the new information in our mental "inbox". It not only applies to our spiritual and political beliefs, but also what products we choose to purchase, how we raise our children, where we arrange our furniture, and all other decisions we make both large and small. Dissonance comes from holding two conflicting thoughts or opinions at that same time. It is a powerful motivator which will often lead us to change one or other of the conflicting belief or action. Discomfort often comes from the tension between the two opposing thoughts. Dissonance and consonance are relations among cognitions that is, among opinions, beliefs, knowledge of the environment, and knowledge of one's own actions and feelings. Two opinions, or beliefs, or items of knowledge are dissonant with each other if they do not fit together; that is, if they are inconsistent, or if, considering only the particular two items, one does not follow from the other (Festinger 1957). ...read more.


Receiving and yielding are important parts to a person forming or changing an attitude. It is possible that an individual can understand and form an attitude from a message like a television advertisement, but not recall the wording of the message (Fiske, 2004). Yielding is important to the persuasion process because it is the actual use of the information. In the case of cognitive dissonance changing attitudes, yielding would ease the dissonance of the individual. Even someone's self-esteem can play a role in persuasion. Individuals with low self-esteem have a difficult time receiving the message; therefore have a difficult time recalling the information or attitudes. Perhaps this is due to their withdrawn or distractive personality (Fiske, 2004). Individuals with higher self-esteem may not yield easily because they might have too much confidence and are not able to concede their own opinions. However individuals with a moderate self-esteem are more likely to be persuaded to a new or different opinion. In Festinger and Carlsmith's experiment, receiving and yielding was used to persuade the subject to do certain things that went against the subject's attitudes. When the subject was asked to talk to the next subject about the level of entertainment the experiment provided, they first had to receive the message then yield to it. When offered the different denominations of money, the level of dissonance was different. It was easier for the subject to yield to the message when offered the lower denomination. There was also some data that was not used in the experiment. Some people did not feel comfortable receiving money to tell people things that went against their attitudes. This could be related to the level of self-esteem. ...read more.

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