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Cognitive Dissonance. .........a psychological phenomenon. A man and a theory.
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Cognitive Dissonance .........a psychological phenomenon
A man and a theory “Dissonance theory arose as I pondered a perplexing report of rumors after a 1934 earthquake in India. In the area outside the disaster zone, many of the rumors predicted that even worse disasters would soon follow. I wondered: Why would people spread and believe such frightening, anxiety-provoking ideas?” Hmmmm....perhaps these rumors were not “anxiety provoking” but rather “anxiety-justifying” Leon Festinger (May 8, 1919 – February 11, 1989) Huh? “Perhaps since people were already frightened by the earthquake, even though they lived outside the area of destruction, they needed something to JUSTIFY their fear. And that’s how my ideas about cognitive change and dissonance reduction – making your view of the world fit with how you feel or what you’ve done – were born.”
The Impact of Cognitive Dissonance Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance is used to account for the psychological consequences of disconfirmed expectations. One of the first published cases of dissonance was reported in the book, When Prophecy Fails (Festinger et al. 1956). A housewife from Chicago named Dorothy Martin (1900–1992),had mysteriously been given messages in her house in the form of "automatic writing" from alien beings on the planet Clarion. These messages revealed that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954. A group of believers, headed by Keech, took various steps which indicate their degree of commitment to the belief: they left jobs, college, and spouses, and had given away money and possessions to prepare for their departure on the flying saucer, which was to rescue the group of true believers.
Well...we’re still here– so the worlddidn’t end in a flood in 1954! Festinger sure was intriqued! • Festinger and his associates infiltrated the cult (obtaining their data through participant observation) determined to discover what happened to cult members when the flood did not materialize (thereby creating an uncomfortable state of cognitive dissonance) – they were particularly interested in the really committed ones who made financial and relationship sacrifices
So – what happened? • Fringe members, those who had recently joined or who had not made any personal sacrifices, were inclined to believe they had been made fools of, left the cult, and “put it down to experience” • The committed members were inclined to believe that it was through their very faithfulness that the earth was not destroyed • Festinger et. al concluded that cognitive dissonance can make us so uncomfortable that we are motivated to dismiss contradictory evidence or provide justification for it
Predict the Results • A group of people are surveyed about their opinions on capital punishment. They are then divided into two groups. Both groups write an essay on capital punishment that is against their true views; one group is “required” to write the essay, the other is asked to “volunteer”. After completing the task, both groups are again surveyed about their opinions on capital punishment. • Discuss with a classmate what you think the results of the experiment might be. Which group would be experiencing the most dissonance? Which group would you predict would show the most change in their attitudes, and most importantly – WHY?
Did you determine the results? • The group of individuals who were required to write the essay that ran counter to their views could justify why their behaviour (the view expressed in the essay) contradicted their true view – therefore, this group did not change from their original position as they did feel the discomfort of cognitive dissonance • The group of individuals who volunteered to write the essay could NOT as easily justify why they could entertain two opposing attitudes at the same time – and individuals from this group were significantly more likely to change from their original position as this would alleviate the discomfort of cognitive dissonance
...consider this study • In 1959, sixty male undergraduates from Stanford University in California volunteered for a study. They were given a boring, repetitive task to do for one hour. None of them were expected to enjoy the task. • They were then divided into three random groups. In two groups (A & B), each individual was asked to talk to a person who hadn’t done the task and to tell him or her how interesting and enjoyable the task was, something with which none of them would have agreed. The third group was not asked to complete this task.
The three groups were offered three outcomes: Group A was offered $20 per person; Group B, $1 per person; and group C was offered nothing. Keep in mind that $20 was a considerable sum of money, at least the value of a day’s work, to these students in 1959. • Afterward, each individual rated the activity in terms of “how much I enjoyed doing the task in this experiment” on a scale of – 5 to +5. • What do you think Festinger and his colleague James M. Carlsmith expected to find? Discuss with a classmate which of the three groups would have the least justification for lie?
I met my friend, the test pilot, the other day. With the pilot was a little girl of about two. I ask my friend, whom I hadn’t seen or heard from in five years and who had married in that time, “What is the child’s name?’ “Same as her mother,” the pilot replies. “Hello, Susan,” I say to the little girl. How did I know her name if I never saw the wedding announcement?
Answer: Easy, the test pilot is a woman and is Susan’s mother. Thus, mother and daughter share the same name. • Why do some people have difficulty getting this problem? • Sex role stereotypes • We don’t expect women to be test pilots. • We don’t expect women to name their daughters after themselves. • Our expectations and assumptions may interfere with our ability to think logically.
The “Susan” riddle has been characterized as a sexist thought problem. You would think that radical feminists would have no difficulty in solving this type of problem, seeing as they attempt to be free of sexist bias and are considered knowledgeable about sex role stereotypes. An experiment was designed to determine what might happen in the minds of radical feminists if they were unable to solve a sexist thought problem.
A group of right-wing (radical) feminists were split into two equal groups. One group was given a sexist thought problem (which they all failed) while the other group worked on a different type of thought problem. The researchers concluded that having failed the thought problem would cause a feminist to experience cognitive dissonance. Why?
Answer: They advocate equality and work to erase sexist thinking. Their behaviour is non-sexist. Failure of the thought problem could indicate to the feminist that they have sexist attitudes and are not as clear thinking and free of bias as their feminist philosophy would demand. Their inability to solve the problem would disconfirm their beliefs about themselves. • The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of this cognitive dissonance. Their method involved giving both groups of feminists a transcript to read about an alleged sex discrimination case. Their task was to decide who whether sex discrimination had taken place and to provide an award (monetary compensation), if necessary.
Remember that cognitive dissonance theory suggests that people feel uncomfortable when faced with inconsistencies in their personalities and are usually motivated to achieve and maintain cognitive consistency. • Your task: • There were two groups in this study – the experimental group is thought to have been put into a state of cognitive dissonance and the control group is not thought to be in a state of cognitive dissonancce • Keeping the above in mind, talk to another member of the class about how the feminists in the two groups would respond to the alleged case of sexual discrimination. Consider the fact that being in a state of cognitive dissonance is UNCOMFORTABLE and people are usually motivated to achieve cognitive consistency.
Your hypothesis? • Would the experimental group and the control group be equally likely to suggest that the case involved sexual discrimination or would one group be more likely than the other to suggest that the case involved sexual discrimination? What is the reason behind your hypothesis? • Would the experimental group and the control group be equally likely to suggest that the “victim” in the case is entitled to monetary compensation, or would one group be more likely to make this recommendation? Would the amount of the award offered be equal between the two groups or would one group offer more? What is the reasoning behind your thinking?
The results? • The group experiencing cognitive dissonance was FAR more likely to claim that sex discrimination had in fact occurred (for you math lovers out there – the result was statistically significant) AND • The group experiencing cognitive dissonance was much more likely to suggest that an award should be offered the victim and the amount offered was much more than the non-dissonance group
Analysis and Interpretation • WHY were these results obtained? • It is thought that the group experiencing dissonance was over-compensating for their “sexist” views (as indicated by failure of the thought problem) and were able to reassure themselves that they do in fact have feminist thinking as evidence by their feminist behaviour – this allowed them to achieve cognitive consistency
NOTES FOR YOU TO COPY: • When our behaviours and our beliefs do not match, we look for a reason – when the discrepancy is not fully explained by external rewards or coercion, or by reasonable justifications, we reduce our dissonance by coming to believe in what we have done (i.e. The experiment where people volunteered, or were required, to write an essay that was in opposition to their true view AND the experiment where people told to lie for different monetary values) – this is referred to as the Insufficient Justification Effect
Effects of Cognitive Dissonance • Guilt • Shame • Defensiveness • Over compensation (extreme changes in behaviour/attitude) • Utilization of defence mechanisms (i.e. Denial – refusal to accept opposing evidence, justification/rationalization, sour grapes, etc.) • If a person cannot find a justification for their dissonance, or are unable to successfully employ a defence mechanism, they are motivated to change