Cognitive Dissonance


How do human beings make decisions? What triggers a person to take
action at any given point? These are all questions that I will attempt to answer
with my theoretical research into Leon Festinger\'s theory of cognitive
dissonance, as well as many of the other related theories. We often do not
realize the psychological events that take place in our everyday lives. It is
important to take notice of theories, such as the balance theory, the congruency
theory and the cognitive dissonance theory so that one\'s self-persuasion occurs
knowingly. As psychologist and theorist gain a better understanding of
Festinger\'s cognitive dissonance theory manipulation could occur more easily
than it already does in today\'s society.
Leon Festinger\'s cognitive dissonance theory is very closely related to
many of the consistency theories. The first of the major consistency theories,
the balance theory, was proposed by Fritz Heider (1946, 1958) and was later
revised by Theodore Newcomb (1953) (Larson, 1995). Heider and Newcomb\'s theory
was mostly looking at the interaction between two people (interpersonally) and
the conflicts that arose between them. When two people have conflicting opinions
or tension is felt between another person, it is more likely persuasion will
occur. Because if no tension was felt between the two parties, or there were no
conflicting opinions there would be no need to persuade each other. If you think
about it persuasion occurs only because there is tension between two facts,
ideas or people.
Charles Larson writes in his book, Persuasion, Reception and
Responsibility, “another approach to the consistency theory is congruency theory,
by Charles Osgood and Percy Tennenbaum (1955)” (p.82). This theory suggest that
we want to have balance in our lives and there is a systematic way to
numerically figure it out. When two attitudes collide we must strive to strike a
balance between the two attitudes. The balance varies depending on the intensity
we feel about each attitude and our pre-disposed positions concerning the
attitude. We either have a favorable , neutral or unfavorable opinion concerning
ideas. When two attitudes collide we will attempt to downgrade the favorable
position and upgrade the unfavorable position so that we feel a balance. For
example, suppose someone thought of Mel Gibson as a good role model. Later on
they come to find out Mel Gibson does not like football. If the person was to
like both football and Mel Gibson one of three things would happen: 1) The
individual would downgrade their opinion of Mel Gibson, or 2) downgrade football,
or 3) downgrade both. The action taken would create psychological consistency in
one\'s mind. These theories are very interesting and have been quite researched,
but none more so than Leon Festinger\'s theory of cognitive dissonance.
Leon Festinger\'s theory, unlike the others I have described, deal with
quantitative aspects, as well as qualitative. That\'s what is so different and
revolutionary about Festinger\'s theory. Robert Wicklund and Jack Brehm (1976),
in their book Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance, write,“ Most notably, the
original statement of dissonance theory included propositions about the
resistance-to-change of cognitions and about the proportion of cognitions that
are dissonant, both of which allowed powerful and innovative analyses of
psychological situations (p.1). The term “dissonance” refers to the relation
between two elements. When two elements do not fit together they are considered
dissonant. Cognitive dissonance can be broken down into a number of elements. As
Brehm and Cohen (1962) write, “A dissonant relationship exist between two
cognitive elements when a person possesses one which follows the obverse of
another that he possesses. A person experiences dissonance, that is, a
motivational tension, when he (or she) has cognitions among which there are one
or more dissonant relationships” (p.4).Cognitive dissonance can occur
intrapersonally as well as between two or more people.
With individual cognitive dissonance the individual longs for
consistency within their own mind. Second, there exist dissonance between two or
more people. This occurs when two people have differing opinions about a
particular issue. This phenomenon may have something to do with varying degrees
of knowledge about the issue or different belief systems being enacted. An
example of this can be seen by taking a look at the cultures of the West versus
cultures of the East. Cultures of the East value loyalty and honor. Cultures of
the West have different value systems that often collide with those of the East.
Between two parties, dissonance may arise from: (1) logical inconsistency; (2)
because of cultural mores: (3) because of a specific opinion; and (4) because of
past experience. To reduce cognitive dissonance a person can either reduce the
dissonant cognition, or its relative importance can be reduced (Wicklund and
Brehm,