Chapter 6 Self-Justification and the Need to Maintain Self-Esteem
Chapter Outline I. The Need to Justify Our Actions
The Need to Justify Our Actions • One of the most powerful determinants of human behavior is the need to preserve a stable, positive self-concept.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance Leon Festinger originated the concept of cognitive dissonance, defining it as inconsistency between two thoughts. Cognitive dissonance may arise when a person engages in an act that is discrepant from one’s self-concept.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of discomfort caused by information that is discrepant from your customary, typically positive, self-concept. Experiencing dissonance motivates an attempt to reduce it.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • Rational Behavior Versus Rationalizing Behavior The need to reduce dissonance and maintain self-esteem produces thinking that is rationalizing rather than rational.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • Decisions, Decisions, Decisions Postdecision dissonance is aroused after we make any important decision; it is reduced by enhancing the attractiveness of the chosen alternative and devaluating the rejected alternative.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • Decisions, Decisions, Decisions One way to engage in postdecision dissonance reduction is to proselytize, recommending your decision/behavior to others.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • Decisions, Decisions, Decisions The more permanent a decision, the greater the need to reduce dissonance after making it. Feeling that one’s decision is irrevocable may lead to falling prey to a sales technique called lowballing. Lowballing makes the customer feel compelled to pay a higher price for an item after first agreeing to pay a much lower price.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • Decisions, Decisions, Decisions Dissonance reduction following a difficult moral decision can cause people to behave either more or less ethically in the future, because people’s attitudes will polarize in the attempt to justify the ethical choice they made.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Justification of Effort What happens when a person voluntarily works hard and the goal doesn’t seem worth it after all? People are unlikely to change their self-concept to believe they were unskilled or foolish; instead they change their attitude towards the goal and see it positively. This is called the justification of effort.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Psychology of Insufficient Justification When people attempt to reduce their dissonance by changing something about themselves, for example their attitudes, they are using internal justification. When people attempt to explain their dissonant behaviors by focusing on reasons that reside outside of themselves, for example being paid a large sum of money, they are using external justification.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Psychology of Insufficient Justification Counterattitudinal advocacy is the process by which people are induced to state publicly an attitude that runs counter to their own attitude. If there is no external justification for counterattitudinal advocacy, a person’s attitude may change in accordance with the view that was expressed publicly. However, when external justification exists, the person’s attitude doesn’t change.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Psychology of Insufficient Justification Harsh punishments teach us to try to avoid getting caught, and thus require constant vigilance to be effective. In contrast, insufficient punishment induces dissonance about why one is not engaging in the behavior, and inspires dissonance reduction by devaluing the forbidden activity or object.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Psychology of Insufficient Justification When attitude change occurs due to insufficient reward or punishment, it becomes very enduring. Both insufficient punishment and insufficient justification lead to self-persuasion, a long-term form of attitude change that results from attempts at self-justification.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Psychology of Insufficient Justification Insufficient external justification is justification that is sufficient to produce the behavior, but insufficient for people to believe that they were “forced” through external justifications to do it.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Aftermath of Good and Bad Deeds Dissonance theory and folk wisdom suggest that we like people not for the favors they have done us but for the favors we have done them.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Aftermath of Good and Bad Deeds If we harm someone, this induces dissonance between our actions and our self-concepts as decent people; to resolve this dissonance, we may derogate or dehumanize our victims.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Aftermath of Good and Bad Deeds We are more likely to derogate people we have harmed if they are innocent victims. Derogating victims by dehumanizing them may lead to a continuation or escalation of violence against them.
The Need to Justify Our Actions • The Evidence for Motivational Arousal Dissonance theory assumes that discomfort due to physiological arousal motivates dissonance reduction. In fact, after engaging in counterattitudinal advocacy, people who can attribute their arousal to another source and not the dissonant behavior do not change their attitudes.
Chapter Outline II. New Directions in Research on Self-Justification
New Directions in Research • The basic premise of cognitive dissonance theory is that people have a fundamental need to maintain a stable and positive sense of self.
New Directions in Research • Self-Discrepancy Theory Higgins’ (1987) self-discrepancy theory holds that people are motivated to maintain a sense of consistency among their beliefs and perceptions of themselves, and become distressed when there is a discrepancy between the “actual self” and an “ideal” or “ought” self.
New Directions in Research • Self-Completion Theory Wicklund and Gollwitzer’s (1982) self-completion theory holds that whenever people experience a threat to an important aspect of their self-concept, they are motivated to seek some additional social recognition for that part of their identity.
New Directions in Research • Self-Completion Theory The theory extends dissonance theory by focusing on the importance of social recognition of the self.
New Directions in Research • Self-Evaluation Maintenance Theory Tesser’s (1988) self-evaluation maintenance theory holds that one’s self-concept can be threatened by another individual’s behavior, and that the level of threat is determined by both the closeness of the other individual and the personal relevance of the behavior.
New Directions in Research • Self-Evaluation Maintenance Theory Dissonance arising when a friend outperforms oneself in a cherished domain can be resolved by (1) distancing oneself from the friend; (2) changing how relevant the domain is to one’s self-definition; or (3) improving one’s performance to outshine the friend’s performance.
New Directions in Research • Self-Affirmation Theory Steele’s (1988) self-affirmation theory suggests that people will reduce the impact of a dissonance arousing threat to their self-concept by focusing on and affirming their competence on some dimension unrelated to the threat.
Chapter Outline III. Self-Justification versus Self- Maintenance: The Role of Negative Self-Beliefs
Self-Justification versus Self-Maintenance • Self-Verification versus Self-Enhancement Research that takes self-esteem into account finds that, in some instances, people with negative self-concepts do not engage in the kinds of self-justification (the tendency to justify one’s actions in order to maintain one’s self-esteem), typical of people with positive self-concepts.
Self-Justification versus Self-Maintenance • Self-Verification versus Self-Enhancement Swann (1990) has proposed self-verification theory, a theory suggesting that people have a need to seek confirmation of their self-concept, whether the self-concept is positive or negative.
Self-Justification versus Self-Maintenance • Self-Verification versus Self-Enhancement The need for self-verification appears to dominate over the need for self-justification for people with negative self-concepts only when people are highly certain of those self-concepts; when the consequences of being improperly evaluated are not too great; and when people believe there is nothing that can be done to improve their abilities.
Self-Justification versus Self-Maintenance • Dissonance Reduction and Culture The experience of dissonance and the attempts to reduce it have been found in all cultures in which they have been studied.
Self-Justification versus Self-Maintenance • Dissonance Reduction and Culture Sakai (1999) found that in Japan, not only does a person reduce dissonance after saying that a boring task is interesting, but in addition, if a person merely observes someone he knows and likes saying that a boring task is interesting, that will cause the observer to experience dissonance.
Self-Justification versus Self-Maintenance • Avoiding the Rationalization Trap The rationalization trap is the potential for dissonance reduction to produce a succession of self-justifications that can ultimately result in a chain of unintelligent or immoral actions.
Self-Justification versus Self-Maintenance • Learning from Our Mistakes The attempt to reduce dissonance can prevent us from learning from our mistakes and can lead us to sweep our mistakes under the rug or even turn them into virtues, perpetuating the error and leading to tragedy.
Self-Justification versus Self-Maintenance • Learning from Our Mistakes One way to avoid the rationalization trap is to experience a boost to one’s self-esteem. Self-affirmation may provide a way out of the rationalization trap.
Chapter Outline IV. Heaven’s Gate Revisited
Heaven’s Gate Revisited • Making an important decision and investing heavily in that decision can evoke a high degree of cognitive dissonance and a strong need to justify behavior. One of the most powerful forces influencing the members of the Heaven’s Gate cult was the great amount of cognitive dissonance they experienced.
Study Questions What are conditions that may result in cognitive dissonance? Why does cognitive dissonance occur?
Study Questions What is the relationship between making important decisions and experiencing dissonance? What happens to attitudes toward the chosen alternative and the one that is not chosen?
Study Questions Why is lowballing an effective persuasion technique? How does dissonance reduction after a moral decision affect people’s tendency to behave ethically or unethically in the future?
Study Questions What is the relationship between the justification of effort and dissonance reduction?
Study Questions Why can insufficient justification result in dissonance? What are the consequences of reducing dissonance through external justification compared to internal justification?
Study Questions What are the effects of insufficient punishment on the judgments of an object or entity? What are the effects of mild versus severe threats on the level of dissonance experienced?
Study Questions Why is self-persuasion a long-lasting form of attitudinal change?
Study Questions What are the consequences of doing something unpleasant for a friend compared to doing something unpleasant for someone who is disliked? What are the effects of doing a favor for someone on how much this person is liked?
Study Questions What does self-discrepancy theory explain? How is dissonance reduced according to this theory?
Study Questions What is self-completion theory? How is dissonance reduced according to this theory?
Study Questions What is self-evaluation maintenance theory? What are two necessary factors for the occurrence of dissonance according to this theory? How does this theory explain why people may help strangers more than they help their friends?