Cognitive Dissonance

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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"...
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