Cognitive Dissonance Theory

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According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (beliefs, expectations, or opinions of a particular individual). When inconsistency does exist between these beliefs or attitudes, psychological tension (dissonance) occurs and must be resolved through some action. This tension most often results when an individual must choose between two incompatible beliefs or actions and is heightened when alternatives are equally attractive to the individual. This tension state has drive-like properties. If dissonance is experienced as an unpleasant drive state, the individual is motivated to reduce it. However, it is not an easy state to reduce. Dissonance can be eliminated by reducing the importance of the conflicting beliefs, by acquiring new beliefs that change the balance, or removing the conflicting attitude or behavior. In theory, cognitive dissonance suggests that actions have a causal relationship upon cognitions. My personal example of cognitive dissonance is the purchase of a 1966 Mustang I made over the summer. This car was my dream car; it was all original, in good shape, and had all of the features I could ever want. I didn’t have much money but I was so excited that I took out my first loan to buy this beautiful car. However, when it came time for school in the fall, I discovered that it was not the ideal vehicle to drive over the mountains. It was an older car, it didn’t have seatbelts, and was very sluggish traveling over the mountain pass. I was extremely frustrated. Dissonance existed between my belief that I had bought a dream car and that a dream car should have seatbelts and have enough power to make it over a mountain pass. To eliminate this dissonance, I decided to store the car at my parents house and only drive the car infrequently. I decided that it didn’t really matter that it couldn’t drive over the pass; It was still a nice car and didn’t want to put a whole bunch of mileage on it anyway. Since then, I have also purchased another car that does have seatbelts and can drive 75mph over the pass. In doing so, I have changed both my behavior and my beliefs. I have changed my belief that it is important for a dream car to have seatbelts and drive over a mountain. It is now not as important that it has those qualities. I have settled with the excuse that it is still a nice car, and I don’t want to put many miles on it. In purchasing a new car with these features (that is not what I believe to be a dream car), I have also changed my beliefs. I no longer think those qualities constitute the ideal car. I have also changed my behavior by buying a new car. I could not change my belief that the mustang was a dream car and tag a “for sale” sign in the window. I still believed this was my dream car, and the behavior of getting rid of the car would be a lot harder than changing my beliefs. It was a lot easier to reduce the importance of the dissonant belief. I have stopped driving the car and have begun to drive a new car as a result.

“If I chose to do it or say it, I must believe in it.” asserts the psychologist Leon Festinger (as cited in Psychology: Eighth Edition in Modules, 2007, p.731). When we become aware that our actions contradict our attitudes, we tend to revise our attitudes. This statement fits Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory that asserts that we act to reduce discomfort or dissonance, an unpleasant tension, we experience when two of our thoughts or cognitions are inconsistent. Mkimmie, et al. (2003) investigated the impact of social support on cognitive dissonance arousal in their experiment, “I’m a Hypocrite, but So Is Everyone Else: Group Support and the Reduction of Cognitive Dissonance.” The psychologists aimed to test the impact of social support on dissonance by testing two hypotheses. While the results that were attained in the study are not more adequate to use than previous experiments, the hypothesis of Mkimmie et al....
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