Cognitive Dissonance Classic in Psychology

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Cognitive Dissonance Classic in Psychology

Areej Alemer

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Cognitive Dissonance Classic in Psychology
There were famous experiments conducted in psychology and many of these experiments gave scientists a new perspective on understanding people. In the 1950s, scientists began conducting test about the effect of social pressures and influence to the behavior of people. Among these scientists is Leon Festinger. He became a well known scientist about the topic social influence through his famous theory of cognitive dissonance[1]. Cognitive Dissonance

Festinger came about this theory in the 1950s at a time when a doomsday cult attracted media attention. The cult worshipped a certain god named Sananda. Cult members believed that Sananda gave them these warnings The uprising of the Atlantic bottom will submerge the land of the Atlantic seaboard; France will sink…. Russia will become one great sea… a great wave rushes to the Rocky Mountains… for the purpose of purifying it of the earthling and creating a new order.[2] Believers claimed that these warnings would happen in midnight of December 21. Festinger got interested with the cult and in his mind he had these questions: “What would happen when on the midnight of December 21, nothing happens? Would the group lose faith? How do human beings react when prophecy fails?”[3] Festinger found out that when the prophecy failed the believers did not lose their faith. They found ways to justify the failed prophecy. One of famous explanation was earth was spared because the cult members went into action and believed in the prophecy. Christians and Jews will find this justification not hard to believe. In the book of Jonah in the bible, Jonah prophesied that Nineveh would be destroyed by fire (Jo. 3:1-10). The people of Nineveh believed and decided to fast and put on sackcloth to show that they had repented. Even their king fasted, sat on ashes and put on sackcloth. Eventually Nineveh was spared and destruction did not happen. So when cult leaders told their members that the earth was spared because of believing Sananda's message, the members bought it, but not Festinger. To him the explanations are a bunch of lies, which he politely called “cognitive dissonance.” Festinger saw the effort of cult leaders in lyng to the media in making excuses to their failed prophecy. They contacted TV stations ABC and CBS, they welcome New York Times, the phoned the writers of Life, Time and Newsweek and gave dozens of interviews to reporters.[4] These actions according to Slater were “attempts to convince the public that their actions and beliefs were not in vain.” The attempts of cult leaders to justify their actions and beliefs became the basis of Festinger’s theory and experiments on cognitive dissonance[5]. Through his readings about history, people tend to proselytize (a sort of desperate defense mechanism) when their belief is disconfirmed. He also found out that the “disjunction between what one believes and the factual evidence is highly uncomfortable.”[6] When prophecy of a cult fails members would attempt to convince everyone to join the cult through false justification. The more people join the group, the more the members feel that they were not mistaken. Is it possible for people to engage in extreme lying just to reconcile their seemingly irreconcilable ideas? Festinger found out that people indeed lie in order to avoid dissonance. In fact, he discovered several forms of dissonance. According to Cooper , what Festinger observed in the cult, he called it the belief disconfirmation paradigm[7]. When he conducted experiment regarding dissonance and money, he called it the insufficient reward paradigm. In his last research he also identified another dissonance- induce compliance paradigm[8]. To understand cognitive dissonance theory it is important to review Festinger’s...
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