Cognitive Dissonance: Fifty Years of a Classic Theory
Publication Year: 2007
Subject: Cognitive Psychology (general)
This book is fun to read!...Cooper takes care to delineate those studies that were particularly important in their purpose, particularly clever in their design, and most groundbreaking in their results. He makes a gripping story of the inception and march of progress in what could have been simply a long series of interesting research projects. In doing so, he made me nostalgic for a time when the field of psychology was alive with excitement and overrun with research topics that actually made sense to those outside a narrow specialty and that meant something to the citizenry." —Alan Cheney, PSYCCRITIQUES"Cooper (Princeton) does a superb job summarizing research on the concept of cognitive dissonance since it was first elucidated by Leon Festinger in the 1950s...Cooper brings a much-needed ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Cognitive Dissonance: In the Beginning
- Chapter 2: Criticism Propels the Theory Forward
- Chapter 3: The Motivational Property of Dissonance
- Chapter 4: Dissonance is not What it Used to Be: The New Look Model of Dissonance
- Chapter 5: The Self-Standards Model and the Emergence of the Self in Dissonance Theory
- Chapter 6: Vicarious Cognitive Dissonance: Experiencing Dissonance Through the Actions of Another
- Chapter 7: Culture, Race, and Cognitive Dissonance
- Chapter 8: Cognitive Dissonance in Today's World
© Joel Cooper 2007
First published 2007
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List of Figures[Page vi]
- 1.1 Attractiveness of the chosen and rejected alternatives following a decision 13
- 1.2 Evaluation of boring tasks: degree of positive feelings toward a task 18
- 1.3 Evaluation of interest of discussion by participants 23
- 2.1 Degree of agreement after writing essay 31
- 2.2 Changes of attitudes toward speaker ban as a function of choice and incentive 34
- 2.3 A comparision of ‘actual’ beliefs and interpersonal judgements of beliefs 40
- 3.1 Attitude change toward position advocated (1) 49
- 3.2 Attitude change toward position advocated (2) 50
- 3.3 Attitude toward shock in psychological research 54
- 3.4 Ratings of attitude change and discomfort 56
- 3.5 Attitude change as a function of pill condition 59
- 3.6 Perceived choice as a function of pill condition 60
- 4.1 Evaluation of the boring task by participants who believed the confederate was convinced or not 66
- 4.2 Attitudes as a function of whether the listener was convinced 67
- 4.3 Mean liking as a function of expectancy and choice 70
- 4.4 The sequence of events leading to dissonance arousal 74
- 4.5 The sequence of events leading from dissonance arousal to attitude change 78
- 4.6 Attitudes toward the proposal as a function of consequence and position 84
- 5.1 Housewives' willingness to help by assigned community reputation 91
- 5.2 Spread of decision alternatives following a choice 94
- 5.3 Interest of participants after compassion task in reading about their compassion levels 100 [Page vii]
- 5.4 Exacerbation of dissonance due to relevant affirmation 101
- 5.5 The Self-Standard Model of dissonance arousal (1) 107
- 5.6 The Self-Standard Model of dissonance arousal (2) 109
- 5.7 Attitudes regarding handicapped facilities as a function of primed standards, level of self-esteem, and choice 113
- 5.8 Interactions between self-esteem and priming on dissonance magnitude 115
- 6.1 Attitude change based on vicarious dissonance: in-group vs. out-group speaker 124
- 6.2 Vicarious dissonance: attitudes toward upfront fees as a function of choice, consequence, and group identification 126
- 6.3 Vicarious discomfort as a function of choice, consequence, and identification 128
- 6.4a Information shown to participants to have them believe they were non-prototypical University of Queensland students 131
- 6.4b Information shown to participants to have them believe they were prototypical University of Queensland students 131
- 6.5 Effect of self and other prototypicality on attitude change 132
- 7.1 Spread of alternatives as a function of culture and personality test feedback 141
- 7.2 Spreading of choice alternatives as a function of reference and culture 144
- 7.3 Spread of the attractiveness of choice alternatives for European and Asian Canadians when choosing for themselves or for a friend 146
- 7.4 Attitudes toward a tuition increase at South Korean universities 148
- 7.5 Attitude change by Black and White participants 151
- 7.6 Spreading of choice alternatives as a function of educational attainment (social class) 155
- 8.1 Weight loss as a function of choice to participate in therapy 164
- 8.2 Improvement in approach to a snake (in inches) as a function of therapy type and choice 168
- 8.3 Degree of assertiveness after training 169
- 8.4 Weight loss (in lbs) by effort condition 171
- 8.5 Change in approach to a snake as a function of choice and effort 173
- 8.6 Percentage of participants who purchased condoms 177
- 8.7 Percentage of women redeeming their coupons for sun screen 179
Writing a manuscript for a solo authored book is not an individual venture. I want to acknowledge all of the people who helped turn my thoughts into manuscript pages and then into a book. Because this book is the culmination of research that transpired for a long time, my debts to my teachers and advisors run deep. The late Edward E. Jones inspired me to be an experimental social psychologist and taught me how to ask the questions that were worth pursuing. With almost equal gratitude, I thank Darwyn E. Linder and Jack W. Brehm for their patience, guidance and good will. All of my colleagues during the course of my career shaped my perspective on cognitive dissonance, but I would be remiss if I did not single out John M. Darley, Mark P. Zanna and George R. Goethals as being just a little special. I also want to acknowledge my former graduate student, Russell Fazio, and my former postdoctoral fellow, Jeff Stone, for being constant sources of ideas and for the collaborations that fill many of the pages of this book.
I also thank my family whose support and encouragement are the bedrock of my life. My wife Barbara stands at the top of the list, but so too do my children Jason, Aaron and Grant and my daughters-in-law, Sharon and Ana. My grandchildren, Reuven and Judah cannot read this book yet, but just gazing at them is the source of so much inspiration.
I also gratefully acknowledge the many people who read chapters and offered their assistance at many points along the way. Matthew Kugler, Amir Goren, Jessica Salvatore, Jeff Stone, Russell Fazio, Grant Cooper, Aaron Cooper, Dink Asano and Ana, Dragomir and Ljubica Bracilovic are among those people. I am also grateful to Vera Sohl for doing all of the hard administrative work to move the project through to fruition. Finally, I wish to thank my friend and series editor, Michael Hogg, and my editor at Sage, Michael Carmichael, for believing in this project.
Forward: Or, why I Wrote This Book[Page x]
Cognitive dissonance is a theory that has had an amazing fifty-year run. It began as a gadfly, an iconoclast exception to the way social psychologists typically thought about social processes. It generated excitement and anger – two elements that frequently lead to controversy, new data, and eventually to a synthesis. That certainly has been true of dissonance. The theory continues to generate exciting new data in our journals and conference presentations, and animates our classroom lectures. It has become a commonly used phrase in the popular press, frequently making its way into the pages of the New York Times. This book is about dissonance. And this book, like dissonance itself, is about many things.
It is a book that pays homage to Leon Festinger, the social scientist who started the research tradition that for fifty years has been a dynamic and innovative theory. It paints a historical portrait of dissonance that sets the twenty-first century issues in the context of the excitement of its early years.
But this is not a book about history. It is about an exciting evolution that has seen the theory change many times. What began as a simply stated theory about inconsistency is no longer about inconsistency. Or is it? That, too, is the subject of controversy. And one thing that can be said confidently about research in dissonance theory over the decades is that its controversies have not been mellow; they have usually been provocative and productive.
Readers who are new to the field will quickly learn the basics (Chapter 1) and then begin the journey to the current issues facing the theory. Readers who are well versed in dissonance theory, who have taught it to their classes or who have conducted research using its principles, will be challenged to consider the implications of the new issues and controversies facing the field. Along the way, we will weave together such disparate concepts as autonomic somatic arousal, individual conceptions of the self, as well as cultural perspectives in modern-day dissonance theory.
This book also has a personal agenda. All research compendia are necessarily selective. They have to be viewed through the author's lens. In [Page xi]the current volume I have selected what I believe to be a fair representation of the thousands of publications that bear the stamp of cognitive dissonance. But the lens is my own. I will necessarily disappoint some scholars and excite others. Readers should be aware that different experts, just as knowledgeable about dissonance as I, might have written a different book, highlighting different ideas and data. This book is my best judgment of where dissonance theory began and where it is going, and I hope the reader will catch the excitement that I still feel after contributing my own work on dissonance for forty years.
What does dissonance look like as it reaches 50? Well, answering that now would prematurely give away the end of the story. It is safe to say that dissonance at 50 looks a little like self-discrepancy and a little like motivated cognition, a little like judgment and decision making and a little like self-esteem. And although it has been informed by these concepts and contributed to the development of concepts outside the framework of dissonance, the theory has maintained its own framework which continues to make it exciting to study.[Page xii]
Afterword: Toward a Modern Theory of Dissonance: What have We Learned?[Page 181]
Fifty years ago, Leon Festinger taught us that we have a drive to rid ourselves of cognitive inconsistency. In so doing, he introduced the concept of cognition into social psychology and allowed us to see the occasions in which the discomfort that arose from cognitive inconsistency led us to change our view of the world. Sometimes, it made us alter the importance of our cognitions, sometimes it made us seek new information but, most frequently, it caused us to change our attitudes. Festinger and his colleagues pushed this elegantly straightforward principle wherever it would go, generating data to show us some of the subtle consequences of our pursuit of consistency. And, in no small measure, that elegantly straightforward theory rose to the level of a super-theory because it frequently led us to realize the limits of other principles, such as reinforcement, that had too often been left unquestioned and untested.
In his address to the 95th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in New York City in 1987, Festinger explained that he had left the field of social psychology in part because he felt so wedded to his statement of dissonance theory that, if he stayed in the field, he would have ended up defending every word of his original statement. And he did not think that was a good thing. ‘Let me put it clearly,’ he stated. ‘The only kind of theory that can be proposed and ever will be proposed that absolutely will remain inviolate for decades … is a theory that is not testable. If a theory is at all testable, it will not remain unchanged. It has to change.’
And change is what this book has been about. Dissonance is no longer Festinger's inconsistency model, although it owes that model an enormous debt. The realm of dissonance is no longer restricted to comparing cognitions with one another to examine their logical consistency or inconsistency; it now includes considerations of responsibility for action, the consequences of our behavior, and our self-views. Modern theories of social cognition, motivated reasoning, and the self all play a role in understanding what cognitive dissonance is all about.[Page 182]The State of Play of Cognitive Dissonance
There is no single direction of change that has captured the consensus of all social psychologists. Many distinguished researchers have taken the position that no change was needed and that dissonance is still a function of inconsistent cognitions (e.g., Beauvois and Joule, 1999; Harmon-Jones, Brehm, Greenberg, Simon, and Nelson, 1996), some think it is a subcategory of self- affirmation (Steele, 1988; J. Aronson, Cohen, and Nail, 1999) and others believe it is a theory about self-expectations (Aronson, 1992; 1999).
In my view, the evidence leads to the conclusion that dissonance is a state of arousal that occurs when a person acts responsibly to bring about an unwanted consequence. The measuring rod for deciding if a consequence is undesired can be the internalized standards of one's society, culture, or family, or it can be very personal standards that have been generated by what one thinks of oneself. Either measuring rod is possible, but the playing field is not even. It tilts toward normative standards unless something in the environment specifically makes personal standards particularly accessible.The Legacy of Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance has already left many legacies in its wake, and there will almost certainly be more. Its legacies have been both practical and theoretical. At the theoretical level, cognitive dissonance helped us to see the limits of certain other principles that had been thought to be ubiquitously universal, such as reinforcement and learning theories. But more important, cognitive dissonance has informed, and been informed by, a host of other theories. Kunda's (1990) motivated cognition theory, Steele's (1988) self- affirmation theory, Tesser's (1990) self-evaluation maintenance theory, and Higgins's (1989) self-discrepancy theory are but some of the examples. Each of those theories was grounded in dissonance theory and each of those theories has left its imprint in the evolution of dissonance.
In addition, cognitive dissonance research added methodological innovations to social psychology, including an emphasis on high-impact research in which meaningful and elaborate social situations were made very real to participants in experimental settings. But, even with its emphasis on the experimental method, research spawned new ways of examining derivations made by the theory, including use of connectionist modeling (Schultz and Lepper, 1996).
On a more practical scale, dissonance has been used as a lens through which to view child-rearing practices, economic behavior (Quattrone and Tversky, 2004), political behavior, and psychopathology, as well as the other issues that were highlighted in Chapter 8. Through the lens of dissonance, we have also been able to gain more insights into the role of culture on our [Page 183]social behavior, and the effects have been reciprocal. The study of culture has helped us understand what is meant by dissonance.The Future of Dissonance
There are avenues left unexplored. Is dissonance learned and, if so, how is it learned? How widespread is vicarious cognitive dissonance and how close will it come to fulfilling the promise we discussed in Chapter 6 for using the approach to change attitudes and behaviors in pro-social directions? Will it lead to techniques that can be used on a wide-scale basis for encouraging people to take better care of their physical and mental health? Will individual and cultural differences reveal fundamental differences in how dissonance is experienced or will the differences in the expression of dissonance lead to a greater understanding of individuals and culture?
Finally, what theoretical challenges will cause us to see that at least some parts of even the most modern versions of dissonance theory, such as the Self-Standards Model, are simply wrong or need repair?
Festinger explained, ‘All theories are wrong … One asks, “How much of the empirical realm can it handle and how must it be modified and changed as it matures.?”’ Festinger would have been pleased to see his theory mature, to see it cast off some of the assumptions that were contradicted in the empirical realm and replaced by more comprehensive views. As it matured, it began to look less and less like the edifice Festinger had constructed and more like a multifaceted structure that took behavior as its base and considered consequences, responsibility, and the self. I think Festinger would have smiled appreciatively at the maturation.
And one thing more. Because all theories are wrong, the current one will undoubtedly be only a way-station to a future evolution.
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