Cognitive dissonance

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Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding contradictory ideas simultaneously. This could arise from a mis-match between a belief and reality. People are motivated to avoid or resolve cognitive dissonance e.g., by adjusting a belief or attitude - or changing the situation so that it conforms better with a belief.

Class exercise[edit]

Can you predict the outcome of this research?

Suppose you volunteered to participate in a psychology experiment on campus. On arrival, you are seated at a table and asked to undertake a series of dull, meaningless tasks for about an hour. Afterward, the experimenter asks you to extol the virtues of the tasks you had performed by describing them to other potential participants as highly worthwhile, interesting and educational. You are paid either $1 or $20 to do this. Suppose you are then asked to privately rate your enjoyment of the tasks. After which amount do you believe your enjoyment rating of the tasks would be higher - $1 or $20?

Osberg reports that almost all students will intuitively indicate the $20 payment.

Festinger and Carlsmith found that those receiving $1 rated the tasks as more enjoyable than those paid $20. Why? In terms of cognitive dissonance – those who received only $1 presumably had insufficient justification for their behaviour (doing the experiments) which led to dissonance, which in turn produced a change in attitude about the tasks (that they were enjoyable) to relieve the cognitive dissonance and justify participation. Those receiving $20 could more easily justify their participation as being for financial gain, hence there was less cognitive dissonance forcing them towards changing their view about the tasks' enjoyment.

How do you overcome cognitive dissonance?

See also[edit]

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