Cognitive Dissonance

We all participate in an exercise called by psychologist called cognitive dissonance frequently and I find it a fascinating mechanism. Before I define it, I will tell the story of an experiment I learned about in one of my psych courses.

In order to test the mechanism, a research group designed the most boring and tedious experiment that they could think of and asked students to participate.  The experiment as I recall was simply moving blocks around and over a long period of time.  When the experiment was finished, the subjects were approached and asked to recruit other subjects.  Some were offered one dollar for each new subject, others, ten dollars and others, fifty dollars per subject.  Each group agreed to the deal and went out seeking new subjects by selling how interesting the experiment was and how important.  Afterwords the sellers were asked about their view of the experiment.  The people who were paid one and five dollars said it was a really interesting and worthwhile experiment.  The people paid fifty dollars per subject said it was really boring and tedious.  The conclusion was that the one and five dollar people did not feel it was worth lying about the experiment so they convince themselves so they did not feel they were lying.  The fifty dollars people felt that fifty dollars justified them lying and so they could maintain the dissonance. 

The experiment demonstrates our ability to make our private logic to be consistent with our belief.  We cannot maintain cognitive dissonance.  In academic literature, the term refers to attempts to reduce the discomfort of conflicting thoughts, by performing actions that are opposite to one’s beliefs.

However in more general use, cognitive dissonnance is a psychological state that describes the uncomfortable feeling when a person begins to understand that something the person believes to be true is, in fact, not true.  Then a process begins to eliminate the dissonance because it is not a comfortable state. 

I have heard that the purpose of many of the automobile ads on TV and print media are to reduce the dissonance or uncertainty that people feel after they have bought a particular vehicle.  If you analyze most of the ads they really are good feeling ads as opposed to information about the selling features of the vehicle.  The person viewing the ad feels good about the decision they made and dissonance is reduced.

I would like to hear some other ideas and point of views on cognitive dissonance.

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