Individuals canstart to feel an unsettling feeling when their opinions or beliefs arequestioned by themselves due to the enforcement of an opposing view. Thisunsettling feeling is known as cognitive dissonance, it is a psychologicalfeeling that we want to overcome to create consonance. Consonance can beestablished by conforming to the new views you have been exposed to andchanging your own opinion completely, or by justifying your own reason andconvincing yourself as to why your belief is correct. Festinger (1957) statesthat “cognitive dissonance is the feeling of being psychologicallyuncomfortable when your own opinion on a subject is challenged”. This unwantedfeeling acts as a motivator to the individual for them to reduce this feeling,it is for this reason that cognitive dissonance can be used in everydaysituations to try and change people’s opinions. The exposure of new informationto an individual on a subject they thought they were confident about can causedissonance. An example of this may be somebody could have believed that the MMRvaccination causes autism in children, however once you expose all the evidenceand educate them that this is not the case, this will cause them to feeldissonance and in response they are likely to change their opinion.
Festinger was one of the firstpsychologists to look into cognitive dissonance, he started by observing a cultwho believed that the world was going to be destroyed by a horrific flood andthey were going to be saved by a spaceship. When the flood did not happen, thiscaused certain members of the cult to realise that they had made a fool ofthemselves and left the group. However, other members of the group who weremuch more involved changed the story and they then suggested that the reasonthe flood didn’t happen was due to their faithfulness to the cult, and theirbeliefs became stronger than ever. This suggests that the more we have investedinto a particular view the less likely we are to abandon this idea when it ischallenged. Cognitive dissonance theory would suggest that this rationalisationis an easier route for the individual trying to reduce the stress caused by theconflicting view, compared to completely dismissing this idea that they havedevoted so much time into. The knowledge that cognitivedissonance can be successful in changing behaviours, has given rise to manystudies to test this idea. Nonetheless some researchers have found thatcognitive dissonance is not always successful and different factors affectwhether an opinion will be changed. In a study carried out by (Vinski &Tryon, 2009) cognitive dissonance was used to try and reduce cheating behaviourin students, and they found that this had surprisingly converse results.
Vinskiand Tyron’s (2009) study demonstrated that after students were exposed tofeelings of cognitive dissonance about cheating, this in turn caused theircheating behaviour to be increased. Students were asked to come up with ideason how to tackle cheating, and within this discussion students would havepicked up new ideas on how to cheat. This studies results suggest that a factorthat influences whether a behaviour/ attitude change is made, is the level ofcognitive dissonance created. In this study for example cognitive dissonancewould have been created but not enough to change their behaviour in the waythey would have expected it to.
However, this study actually highlighted to thestudents that cheating benefits them and this outweighs the feeling of dissonance,therefore giving them more of a motive to want to cheat. Moreover, another factor that canaffect an individual changing their opinion is the severity of initiation intoa group. Aronson and Mills, (1958) carried out a study into this and found ahigher increase in the liking of a group when there was an increase in theseverity initiation to that group. This suggests that a greater feeling of dissonancewas created when the initiation to the group was more severe, as theparticipants have had to go through an unpleasant experience to be part of thegroup and then discovered that they do not want to be involved with it and thisthen creates dissonance. When dissonance is created the participant will wantto resolve this feeling and in this case, they exaggerated the positivecharacteristics of the group.
Interestingly, a similar finding has been foundfor rats in a study done by (Lydall, Gilmour & Dwyer, 2010), who found thatrats actually place more value on a reward when it requires more effort,compared to when the same reward requires less effort. This implies that theeffort put into achieving something can influence your attitude and opiniontowards it. This could be applied to real life for example, helping peopleenjoy a fitness class more by making them work hard to be a part of it.However, a similar study carried out after Aronson and Mills, (1958) byHautaluoma and Spungin, (1974) found alike results for females but hugedifferences for males, that in the severe condition they had the least amountof interest for continuing their participation in the group. This could suggestthat males react to dissonance differently; the males may have reduced theirdissonance by convincing themselves that the initiation to the group was notthat unkind. Consequently, their initial feeling of finding the group boringremains the same and this could suggest why they had the least amount ofinterest in this group.
This finding could propose that cognitive dissonanceaffects male and females differently and that results of the theory cannotalways be generalised to everyone. People do not like to change their opinionsas we like consistency, however if there is a reward on offer they may be morelikely to change their opinion. Festinger and Carlsmith’s (1959) study demonstratedthis when they looked at how different levels of rewards can influence theextent to which a participant will lie. The participants were split into twogroups, one group was given a small reward of one dollar and the other groupwas given twenty dollars for lying. The results of the study found that thesmaller reward of one dollar actually caused more of an effect, this is due tohigher amount of dissonance being made and the pressure to reduce thisdissonance was high. One dollar is too small of a reward to be sufficient tomake somebody lie, therefore they actually convinced themselves that it wasfun. However, in the twenty-dollar condition no dissonance was produced as theyfelt comfortable in lying just for the money.
This evidence has also been foundby Sellinger (2006), who found that participants were more likely to lie aboutthe brutality of cold pressor pain when given no extra research creditscompared to those who were given extra credits. This shows that reward is ahuge factor in changing an individual’s opinion on something, this researchshows that you can cause people to convince themselves the opposite of whatthey actually believe just by giving them a small incentive. A problem withthese studies is that they may not actually be measuring cognitive dissonance,they may in fact just be measuring people’s likeliness to conform to orders. Aproblem with cognitive dissonance theory is that it has the assumption thateverybody wants to reduce the feeling of dissonance, if somebody likes thefeeling of dissonance or is not motivated enough to reduce this feeling thenthis goes against the theory.
An example of where cognitive dissonance isproduced but not acted upon is in meat-eaters, when they have been asked abouttheir feelings towards slaughtering animals (Norton, 2009). Meat- eaters wereput in a position where their cognitive dissonance had been increased, due tothem focusing on their attitudes towards the lives of farm animals and themeating meat. Rises in cognitive dissonance would usually cause an individual tojustify their reasons for eating meat, and this would have restored consonance.
However, the meat-eaters attitudes towards meat-eating became more negativealong with their attitudes towards animal slaughter but they would still continueto eat meat. Interestingly this finding shows a lack of motivation inconsonance restoration, and shows the meat-eaters attitudes actually becomingmore inconsistent. This is a prime example that demonstrates a problem withcognitive dissonance theory. Toconclude, cognitive dissonance theory has many diverse factors that can changethe outcome of whether an opinion or attitude is changed.
Simple factors suchas reward can show interesting affects, however cognitive dissonance ispsychological feeling which is evidently hard to measure and this could suggestproblems with its construct validity. Studies such a Vinski and Tyron’s (2009)solidifies this as showing how complex the theory is.