Cognitive Dissonance Theory

The theory of Cognitive Dissonance states that when individuals are presented with information that implies we act in a way that contradicts our moral standards, we experience discomfort (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert, 1998, P. 191). This is considered Cognitive Dissonance,
A psychological term used to describe mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information; arouses unease or tension; relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers: rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding new information; persuading self that no conflict really exists; reconciling differences; or resorting to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in conception of world and of self; first introduced in 1950s; has become major point of discussion and research in psychology (as cited in Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia, 1996).
This theory was developed by Leon Festinger (1957), is concerned with the relationships among cognitions. Cognition, for the purpose of this theory, may be thought of as a piece of knowledge, thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. Knowledge may be about an attitude, an emotion, a behavior, or a value. For instance, the fact that you like the color red is cognition. People have a massive amount of cognitions at the same time, and these cognitions create irrelevant, relationships with one another. Therefore, that the two cognitions have nothing to do with each other. This occurs most often when we do something that contradicts our moral beliefs.
If dissonance is experienced it is almost always uncomfortable, so the individual is motivated to reduce it. This causes the individual to identify the magnitude of their discomfort and, it is possible to predict what we can do to reduce dissonance. There are three basic ways to reduce dissonance. First are changing cognitions, an example is if two cognitions don’t relate we can change one to make it relate to the other; or change each cognition in the direction of the other. The second is adding cognitions, if two cognitions cause a certain degree of dissonance, adding one or more cognitions can reduce the degree of dissonance. The third is altering importance, attempting to justify the behavior by adding new cognitions. These are the three basic ways of reducing cognitive dissonance (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert, 1998, P. 192).
Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith also tested his theory in 1959. They put all the participants through a dull task. The task consisted in placing a large number of spools on pegs on a board, turn each spool a quarter turn, take the spool off the pegs and then put them back on. The subject’s attitudes toward this task were negative.
The participants were then asked to lie about the task to another person. This person was actually an assistant in the study. The lie was to try to convince the assistant that the task was actually interesting and fun. The participants were either given one dollar or twenty dollars for lying about the task. The experimenters found that those who lied and received the one-dollar experienced the greatest dissonance, and they were more motivated to seek cognitive constancy than the participants who received twenty dollars. Those who received the one-dollar reported to have enjoyed the task more than those who received the twenty dollars.
There was an inconsistency between the attitudes of the participants and the behavior. The participants who received twenty dollars just wanted the money. The larger amount of money provided external justification for the behavior. There was no dissonance, and the participants did not need to change their attitudes.
For the subjects who received only one dollar there was less external justification, and more dissonance. They reduced their dissonance by changing their attitudes toward the task. The experimenters then asked the one-dollar group to evaluate the experiment, and rated the task more fun than the twenty-dollar group, or the control group. This simply explains cognitive dissonance; the participants changed their attitudes to make them consistent with behavior. This experiment shows how easily people rationalize behavior to make them consistent with their morals. (Price, et al, 1959 pg. 507).
I have an almost perfect example of cognitive dissonance. One of my really close friends is what you would call a social smoker. She doesn’t consider herself a smoker; she just does it on occasion. For example when she is drinking,