Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Cognitive dissonance and emotion
What are the emotional effects of cognitive dissonance?
Overview[edit | edit source]
Picture Jill ... Jill has been a smoker for the last 5 years. Her father was a life long smoker and recently passed away due to lung cancer and she is devastated about the loss. However, Jill continues to smoke despite knowing the harmful and potentially fatal consequences of cigarettes. Why is it that people continue to smoke, despite knowing the negative consequences, or continue to use plastic bags despite the growing concern for the environment? Making a choice that results in a conflict between your beliefs and your behaviours, results in the psychological phenomena of cognitive dissonance.
This chapter explores the relationship between cognitive dissonance and emotion. It is first important to have a clear understanding of what cognitive dissonance is and ways it may be induced, as well as an understanding of emotion. Theories of cognitive dissonance and emotion will be discussed in order to create a deeper understanding of the interaction. The main element of this chapter will then be discussed by looking at the effects of cognitive dissonance on emotions such as: guilt, shame, and regret. Finally, ways to reduce cognitive dissonance and further research directions will be discussed.
What is cognitive dissonance?[edit | edit source]
Cognitive dissonance was first introduced as a psychological phenomenon in 1957 by Leon Festinger. It is defined as the stress that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously in the mind, usually arising when people are asked to choose between two detrimental, or two beneficial options (Fontanari, Bonniot-Cabanac, Cabanac &, Perlovsky, 2012).
The basic understanding of cognitive dissonance is that the psychological discomfort caused by the conflicting attitudes or behaviours will motivate the person to reduce dissonance and the individual will actively avoid situations and information that will increase the dissonance (Festinger, 1957).
Festinger (1957) identified 4 different cognitive dissonance inducing sources[edit | edit source]
Dissonance can arise from logical inconsistency[edit | edit source]
Imagine thinking you will have the money saved to travel to Europe next year whilst simultaneously holding the thought that you are not qualified enough to get a high paying job. These thoughts are illogical and contrast with each other as one scenario cannot occur without the reverse of the other.
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Picture yourself sitting at a dinner at your new boss's extremely fancy house, when the server brings you a pizza. You know in this formal setting it would be inappropriate to use your hands; however, social norms imply you are able to pick up the pizza with your hands. Dissonance exists simply because the culture defines what is appropriate and what is not (Festinger, 1957).
Dissonance can arise because a specific opinion is included in a general opinion[edit | edit source]
If a person is a fanatic supporter of a certain soccer team, but their favourite player moves and starts playing for a different team, cognitive dissonance ensues.
Dissonance may arise from past experiences[edit | edit source]
If the last 3 times it has rained, and a town has experienced a series of floods, members of the town may experience dissonance with the next rainfall, there is no flood. They know from the experience of rain that floods do occur; however, there is no flood, causing dissonance.
See Also Cognitive Dissonance
“Emotion consists of neural circuits, response systems and a feeling/state process that motivates and organises cognition and action. Emotion also provides information to the person experience and may include antecedent cognitive appraisals and ongoing cognition including an interpretation of its feeling state, expressions or social communicative signals…”(Izard, 2010)
See also Emotion
Theories of cognitive dissonance and emotion[edit | edit source]
Circumplex Model of Affect[edit | edit source]
The circumplex model of affect was created as a way of representing the structure of affective experience as well as a way to conceptualise affect (Russell, 1980). The basis of the model is that a person’s affective experience can be characterised by ordering the affective states on the circumference of a circle (Loizou & Karageorghis, 2015). The model holds that most emotions can be arranged in a circular fashion around the perimeter of two independent bipolar dimensions, valence and arousal (Loizou & Karageorghis, 2015). The similarity between two affective states is directly correlated to their distance from one another on the perimeter (Fontanari, Bonniot-Cabanac, Cabanac &, Perlovsky, 2012). The two dimensions in this structure are the valence dimension and the arousal dimension (Russell, 1980). The valence dimension is the hedonic quality of an affect related stimulus or the feeling of pleasure and displeasure whilst the arousal dimension is the level of activation associated with a particular emotion. (Loizou & Karageorghis, 2015). The interaction between affect and dissonance can be understood by this model. Negative affect has been previously defined in this chapter as subjective distress and unpleasant engagement that results in aversive mood states such as anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, fear and nervousness (Watson, et al., 1988). Due to the uneasy internal feelings that occur from cognitive dissonance it is not uncommon for a state of negative affect to result from a dissonance inducing situation. Much of the research on cognitive dissonance and negative affect involves studies in which participants counter attitudinal action had negative consequences however, Harmon Jones conducted an experiment to determine if cognitive dissonance can result in negative affect in the absence of aversive consequences (Harmon-Jones, 2000). Results of the experiment found that individuals report more negative affect in high choice versus low choice situations when told to write a counter altitudinalstatement that had no aversive consequences (Harmon-Jones, 2000). The finding that cognitive dissonance results in a continuum of negative affect, resulting in a feeling of displeasure, supports the circumplex model’s theory. The results of these studies are interesting as they imply that cognitive dissonance results in feelings of displeasure and high arousal due to internal turmoil rather than external or environmental factors.
See Also Affect (Psychology)
The Connectionist Model of Dissonance[edit | edit source]
The first connectionist model of cognitive dissonance was proposed by Schultz and Lepper and was named the consonance model or the constraint satisfaction neural network model. This model used units which corresponded to three different cognitions; behaviour, justification, or evaluation which are represented in different nodes (Van Overwalle & Jordens, 2002). The connection weights indicate the causal implications between the cognitions and networks which can reconcile into a less dissonant state as activations of units and weights are applied to links in the network (Matsumoto, 2014). In simplified terms, behaviour, justification and evaluation have weights of activation and when dissonance occurs, the weight of these cognitions increases or decreases in order to reduce cognitive dissonance. In more recent years, Van Overwalle and colleagues created an adaptive connectionist that implemented an attributional aspect of cognitive dissonance. They found that changing one’s mental representation of a stimuli results in adjustments being made for explanations of behaviours and emotions in regard to the attitude resulting in a decrease in dissonance (Van Overwalle & Jordens, 2002). They then applied their connectionist model to affect to determine the interaction between dissonance and affect. Through induced compliance paradigms, in which people were given insufficient or sufficient rewards for contradicting their beliefs, they found that negative mood resulted in more negative attitude and positive mood increased the attitude (Jordens, Van Overwalle, 2005). The connectionist model allows us to understand the weight to which we give our attitudes and how the more weight be put on the attitude the more cognitive dissonance that occurs. The connectionist account of how cognitive dissonance and affect interact states that positive or negative mood can alter how easily an attitude can be changed to reduce dissonance.
Neural Mechanisms of Cognitive Dissonance[edit | edit source]
Neural mechanisms activated by cognitive dissonance and particular emotions has been an area of interest for neuropsychologists in order to determine if there is an interaction between them. Cognitive dissonance is unable to occur if there is no choice being made and therefore the research on neural mechanisms are based around decision making and attitude change.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRi) focusing on dissonance induced situations showed that the experience of dissonance increased neural activation in key brain regions including the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, left anterior insula, inferior frontal gyrus and precuneus (De Vries, Byrne &, Kehoe, 2015). The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is the brain region associated with cognitive control and the left anterior insula is linked with aversive emotional arousal (Kitayama, Chua, Tompson &, Han, 2013). An EEG study assessing the neural correlates of cognitive dissonance during decision process found that choices associated with stronger cognitive dissonance triggers increased left front cortical activation which is the brain region associated with decisional commitment (Harmon-Jones, Gerdjikov & Harmon-Jones, 2008). There are similarities between brain areas activated by cognitive dissonance and brain areas that activate emotions such as guilt, shame and regret. Shame is associated with activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the posterior cortex while guilt was more likely to be associated with brain activity in the posterior temporal regions and the precuneus (Bastin, Harrison, Davey, Moll & Whittle, 2016). The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the precuneus have both been identified as neural mechanisms associated with cognitive dissonance and negative emotions such as guilt and shame. Regret has been seen through functional magnetic resonance imaging to activate the anterior insula, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (Chua, Gonzalez, Taylor, Welsh & Liberzon, 2009). This is similar to the activation of the anterior insula caused by cognitive dissonance. The neural mechanisms affected cognitive dissonance and research on brain areas activated by self-conscious emotions imply that there are similarities between brain activation for dissonance and shame, guilt and regret and these similar activations assist with explaining the interaction between emotion and dissonance.
The effect of cognitive dissonance on emotions[edit | edit source]
The feeling of cognitive dissonance has been shown through psychological research to have a significant effect on emotions, specifically guilt, shame and regret.
Guilt[edit | edit source]
Guilt is what is described as a self-conscious emotion. What distinguishes a self-conscious emotion from a basic emotion is that self-conscious emotions drive people to work hard in acheivement domains and behave in a morally, socially appropriate ways (Tracy & Robins, 2004). Guilt is defined as an adaptive emotion through internal moral standards and entails a sense of personal agency that results in prosocial behaviour (Roberts, Strayer & Denham, 2014). When there is a violation of these moral standards, guilt ensues. An important distinction between guilt and shame is that shame is impossible without a real or imagined audience and can be seen through biological tells such as flushed face or averted gaze, where as guilt is considered as more of an internal reflection of the consequences of actions (Breslavs, 2013).
A majority of the research on cognitive dissonance and guilt is centred around consumer choices due to cognitive dissonance occurring only when there is a conflict between choices. Burnett and Colleagues researched the effects of consumer decisions making on guilt. They define consumer guild as the negative emotions which results from the consumer decision that violates one’s values or norms (Burnett & Lunsford, 1994). A study examining the effects of emotions and dissonance on ethical consumption choices interviewed 31 British consumers that participated in ethical and unethical choices. They found that when participants were asked to make a choice provoking cognitive dissonance, the feeling of guilt related to unethical consumption choice was compensated by pride when associated with a preceding or subsequent ethical choice (Gregory-Smith, Smith & Winklhofer, 2013). The results of this study show that when cognitive dissonance induced guilt occurs, it motivates individuals to behave in ways that will restore consonance. A similar study looking at meat consumption and cognitive dissonance exposed participants to the meat animal connection in order to determine whether the connection would alter their affect, specifically sadness and guilt. They found that negative affect significantly increased in women who were exposed to the meat animal connection due to the occurrence of cognitive dissonance.
Contrasting these results, Bapu and colleagues examined whether impulse buying among student shoppers would lead to higher cognitive dissonance than planned purchases and whether this choice would result in guilt. Interestingly, they found that the likelihood that impulse buying is in fact a coping strategy that decreases cognitive dissonance as it us used to avoid surprises arising out of disconfirmation of planned expectations.
Shame[edit | edit source]
Shame differs from guilt as it focuses on the short-term consequences for the individual and is an indicator of negative estimation of one’s behaviour. It is associated with feelings of inferiority, a sense of worthlessness and a damaged self-image (Tangney & Dearing, 2002).
In order to understand the relationship betweeen guilt and cognitive dissonance, certain areas of research have been focused on as they provide clear incidences of the interaction. These include Religion, sexuality and body shaming. Yousaf and Gobet used a cognitive dissonance paradigm to determine the emotional and attitudinal consequences of religious hypocrisy (Yousaf & Gobet, 2013). Cognitive dissonance was induced in participants by making them feel hypocritical for engaging in behaviours that had not recently engaged in to their own satisfaction (Yousaf & Gobet, 2013). They found that participants in dissonance conditions felt more guilt and shame than those in the control condition and that incorporating a religious self-affirmation task in which they were asked to express 6 more values as opposed to behaviours eliminated the feelings of guilt in shame (Yousaf & Gobet, 2013).
A study examining the effects of cognitive dissonance on religion, sexuality and internalise homonegativity gives insight into the role of shame in maintaining dissonance. In this study cognitive dissonance was as a result of inconsistency between their faith and their sexual preference, resulting in internalised shame (Meladze & Brown, 2015). They predicted that followers of Abrahamic religions will experience higher cognitive dissonance compared with those who associate themselves with more philosophical religions or no religion at all (Meladze & Brown, 2015). The results of this study supported the theory of cognitive dissonance as they showed that religious faith and homosexuality exist in conflict with each other and that this resulted in high levels of internalised shame (Meladze & Brown, 2015).
Shame is a complex emotion in that there are many variations of shame. As humans, we can be ashamed about any number of things that we see as a threat to our self-image, including how we see our body. An interesting study looked at using cognitive dissonance as a body image intervention, titled, ‘The Body Project’. The aim of this project is to induce cognitive dissonance among women by engaging them in counter attitudinal behavioural exercises that challenge the dominant ideal of female beauty in order to reduce the prevalence of body shaming (Stice, Marti, Spoor, Presnell & Shaw, 2008). Participants in the dissonance inducing condition showed greater decreases in thin ideal internalisation, body dissatisfaction and psychosocial impairment than expressive writing controls (Stice et al,. 2008)
Picture Ben; Ben has had body confidence issues and cannot remember a time when he went to the beach and felt comfortable going for a swim without a shirt on. Ben decides to challenge his belief that he is overweight and that his physique consistent with social norms. Although he feels uneasy with the choice he has made to take off his shirt and go for a swim as it contradicts his belief that he is overweight, he has made a positive change to decrease body shame and increase body positivity. Go Ben!
Regret[edit | edit source]
Regret has been defined as a negative emotion which occurs when the person believes that they could have acted differently or made a different choice which arises after poor decision making and self-regulation (Zeelenberg, van Dijk, Manstead & vanr de Pligt, 2000). It is clear to see how cognitive dissonance induces regret as neither can occur without a choice being made.
A real-life example of the interaction between dissonance and regret is a study by Keng and Liao (2009) who studied the consequences of post purchase dissonance using regret theory. The post purchase regret model identified the level of pleasure achieved after purchase including post purchase satisfaction and repurchase intention. The results of their study found that post purchase dissonance negatively influences post purchase satisfaction and repurchase intention (Keng & Liao, 2009). A similar study looking at the influence of cognitive dissonance on retail product returns found that regret causes people to try and undo the decision once it is made through returning the product or avoiding a particular choice if they believe post purchase dissonance will ensue (Powers & Jack, 2013). They found that cognitive dissonance individually does not influence post product returns; however, it does occur when emotional dissonance is present (Powers & Jack, 2013). These results indicate that product returns appear to be an attempt to reduce their cognitive dissonance and therefore emotional dissonance (Powers & Jack, 2013).
Festinger mentioned the relationship between cognitive dissonance and regret by suggesting that at some point between the decision and the subsequent dissonance reduction, a tendency toward a reversing of decision alternatives, otherwise known as regret, is proposed as the outcome of the person focusing on dissonant elements. Brehm and colleagues conducted an experiment with female undergraduates in order to test the proposition that induced dissonant conditions increases post choice regret (Brehm & Wicklund, 1970). Through high dissonance and low dissonance conditions they concluded that dissonance conditions actually reduced regret and increased post decision dissonance reduction (Brehm & Wicklund, 1970). These results are consistent with Festinger's original hypothesis that a person will avoid any increase in the magnitude of dissonance.
Further research suggestions[edit | edit source]
Whilst the research on cognitive dissonance and emotion has grown since its emergence there are still future directions for research in order to deepen the understanding of how they interact. Suggestions for future research include:
- The effect of cognitive dissonance on other basic and self-conscious emotions. These may include anger, sadness and embarrassment.
- The physical consequences of failing to resolve cognitive dissonance.
- The effect of cognitive dissonance on stress and anxiety. Research on whether cognitive dissonance causes an increase in stress and whether prolonged exposure to cognitive dissonance can cause anxiety would be beneficial for mental health professionals.
Quiz[edit | edit source]
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Reduction of cognitive dissonance and emotions[edit | edit source]
Reduction in cognitive dissonance can result in a decrease in a negative affect. How resistant thoughts are to change depends on how close to reality they are and how important or central they are to one's belief (Festinger, 1957).
Reducing cognitive dissonance results in a reduction of negative emotions or affect which in turn results in restored well-being and cognitive consistency. But how do we reduce the unsettling feelings of cognitive dissonance and its resulting emotions? The father of the cognitive dissonance phenomenon, Leon Festinger, stated 3 ways in which a dissonant belief can be reduced. Individuals can:
- Change one of the dissonance elements – these elements include attitudes, values, opinions, or behaviours (Simon, Greenberg, & Brehm, 1995)
- Add a new consonant belief
- Decrease the importance of consonant belief (Simon et al., 1995)
The most empirically tested method cognitive dissonance reduction is changing one’s attitude (McGrath, 2017).. Cognitive dissonance can be reduced by changing a conflicting attitude to match the current behaviour, and therefore dissipating the feeling of dissonance.
Trivialisation, or reducing the importance of one’s belief, draws from Festinger's original third method of reducing dissonance. It involves reducing the importance of the inconsistency by reducing the importance of one or more of the dissonant elements (Simon et al., 1995).
Adding a consonant belief is one of the easier methods of reducing dissonance. people seek out new information to confirm their new belief. This allows them to externally justify one’s behaviour (Mcgrath, 2017).
These methods of reducing cognitive dissonance are empirically tested and suggested to be the most effective forms of reducing dissonance. A reduction in cognitive dissonance is followed by a decrease in negative emotions and cognitive consistency is re-established.
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance resulting from an inconsistency between attitude and behaviour has continually been researched since it was first presented in 1957. Theories of cognitive dissonance and emotion including the circumplex model of affect, the connectionist model of dissonance and neural mechanisms of cognitive dissonance and emotion allow a deeper understanding of the interaction between cognitive dissonance and emotion to be achieved. Through empirical psychological research, it has been implied that cognitive dissonance induces 3 self-conscious emotions including guilt, shame and regret. Ways to reduce cognitive dissonance are also suggested including changing one of the dissonance elements, adding a new consonant belief and, finally, decreasing the importance of consonant belief. The conclusion that should be drawn from this chapter is that each time an individual makes a choice, there is the potential for dissonance to be induced. So in order to maintain healthy emotional wellbeing, it is beneficial to choose the option that is most in line with your values and attitudes. Looking back on our case study of Jill, we can now understand why Jill continues to smoke despite her knowledge of the risks.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Dissonance: The motivational power of dissonance and how it can be used (Book chapter, 2011)
- Self-perception theory and motivation for positive change (Book chapter, 2018)
- Self concordance theory and Motivation
References[edit | edit source]
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