cognitive dissonance

Topics: Cognitive dissonance, When Prophecy Fails, Leon Festinger Pages: 13 (3849 words) Published: October 21, 2013
The theory of cognitive dissonance
By Adam Kowol

Contents:
1.

INTRODUCTION.................................................................................................... 2

2.

FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPTS AND PRINCIPLES........................................... 2

3.

MAJOR COGNITIVE DISSONANCE PHENOMENA ...................................... 4

4.

REVISIONS AND ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATIONS .............................. 9

5.

TENTATIVE ASSESSMENT OF THE THEORY............................................. 10

REFERENCES ............................................................................................................... 11

1. Introduction
The aim of the present paper is to provide a general overview of cognitive dissonance theory. We begin by defining the basic concepts and summarizing the principal postulates of the theory. We point to possible classifications of the theory in terms of different forms of scholarship and types of theory by considering relevant philosophical and methodological assumptions. We go on to discuss the main areas of research focusing on dissonance phenomena. In addition, we present major revisions and alternative interpretations of the theory. We conclude by attempting to assess the theory on the basis of generally accepted criteria.

The theory of cognitive dissonance is one of the most significant and influential theories in the history of social psychology. Suffice it to mention that only five years after its introduction, Brehm and Cohen (1962, as cited in Bem, 1967, p. 183) could review over fifty studies conducted within the framework the theory. In the following five years, every major social-psychological journal averaged at least one article per issue probing some prediction derived from its basic propositions. In the course of five decades that have passed since it was formulated by Leon Festinger, it has found widespread applications in various fields of scientific investigation, including communication studies (e.g., Griffin, 2006; Littlejohn & Foss, 2005), marketing (e.g., Rice, 1997), economic theory (James & Gutkind, 1985), and behavioral finance (Ricciardi & Simon, 2000).

2. Fundamental concepts and principles
The central proposition of Festinger’s theory is that if a person holds two cognitions that are inconsistent with one another, he will experience the pressure of an aversive motivational state called cognitive dissonance, a pressure which he will seek to remove, among other ways, by altering one of the two dissonant cognitions (Bem, 1967, p. 183). If we wish to analyze the hypothesis stated above in detail, it is essential to define several basic concepts. A cognition (also called a cognitive element) may be broadly defined as any belief, opinion, attitude, perception, or piece of knowledge about anything - about other persons, objects, issues, oneself, and so on (Aronson, 2004, p. 146; Littlejohn & Foss, 2005, p. 77; O'Keefe, 2002, p. 78). Littlejohn and Foss (2005) define a cognitive system as "a complex, interacting set of beliefs, attitudes, and values that affect and are affected by behavior" (p. 81). Festinger

2

considered the need to avoid dissonance to be just as basic as the need for safety or the need to satisfy hunger (Griffin, 2006, p. 228). Psychologists define a drive as any internal source of motivation that impels an organism to pursue a goal or to satisfy a need, such as sex, hunger, or self-preservation. The distressing (aversive) mental state termed cognitive dissonance is therefore conceptualized as an aversive drive.

In this paper, we are primarily interested in Festinger's theory as one of a diverse range of theories of human communication. Bormann (1989, as cited in Griffin, 2006) refers to communication theory as an "umbrella term for all careful, systematic and self-conscious discussion and analysis of communication phenomena" (p. 6). Scholars have made many attempts to define communication but...

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