Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) conducted one of the first experiments on cognitive dissonance. Subjects were seventy-one male college students. They were told that they were participating in a experiment examining "Measures of Performance." Upon greeting subjects the experimenter reminded them that an assessment of experiments conducted at the university was being carried out by introductory psychology students. This assessment was announced previously in the subject's classes. The experimenter further explained that while the assessment was unrelated to the experiment the subject was about to participate in, the subject may be interviewed after his completion of the experiment (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
For the first experimental task subjects were required to put twelve spools on a tray, remove them, and then put them on the tray again. Subjects were instructed to use one hand while completing this task. The experimenter sat behind the subject, timing him with a stop watch, while he was completing this task. For the second experimental task subjects were presented with an S board. The S board contained forty-eight square pegs. The subject's task was to turn each peg a quarter of a turn clockwise using only one hand. Once again the experimenter sat behind the subject timing him with a stop watch. Each task took one-half hour to complete (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
The two experimental tasks were not intended to assess "Measure of Performance." Rather, they were a manipulation to induce cognitive dissonance. The goal of the experimenters was actually to create boring, uninteresting tasks. After the subjects completed the tasks the experimenter requested a "favor." He told the subjects that the experiment contained two conditions. One in which subjects were given no introduction to the experiment (this was the condition that the subject was supposedly in), and another in which subjects were given an introduction to the experiment. The experimenter further explained that a student, working for the experimenter, provides the introduction to the subjects. The experimenter also explained that the student includes several points in his introduction; that the experiment was interesting, enjoyable, and fun. After this explanation the experimenter asked the subject if he would wait to speak to this student. The subject was then led to the secretary's office to wait for the student (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
The subject waited in the secretary's office for four minutes, at which time the experimenter, looking somewhat embarrassed and anxious, asked to speak to the subject. The experimenter explained that the student could not make it that day and that another subject, who was in the introduction condition, was waiting to participate in the experiment. The experimenter then asked if the subject would be willing to stand in for the student, and tell the next subject that the experimental tasks were enjoyable, interesting, and fun (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
It is at this point in the experiment that the independent variable was manipulated. The subjects were either offered one dollar or twenty dollars for telling the next subject that the tasks were enjoyable, interesting, and fun. The subject was also informed that he may be called and asked to help the experimenter again for no additional compensation. Regardless of condition (one dollar or twenty dollars) subjects agreed to help the experimenter (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
Subjects were then led back to the secretary's office where the next subject was waiting. The next subject was actually a female student hired by the experimenter to pose as a subject. The female student said little until the subject began informing her that the experiment was interesting, etc.. At this point she informed the subject that she had heard, from a friend, that the experiment was boring. The subject then tried to convince the student that the experiment was interesting. After two minutes of talking to the female student the experimenter entered the room, took the female student to the testing room, and told the subject to see if an introductory psychology student wished to interview him related to the assessment of experiments conducted at the university (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
The interviewer, supposedly a student from an introductory psychology course, then interviewed the subject. This interview was actually the dependent measure in the experiment. Questions asked included whether the experimental tasks were interesting, enjoyable, and whether the subject would be willing to participate in a similar experiment (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
At this point it should be noted that there was a third, control, condition in the experiment. In the control condition subjects engaged in the spool and peg tasks. However, after these tasks they were immediately interviewed. The control condition subjects were not asked to step in for the student who could not make it, nor were they asked to talk to the next subject about the experiment. The control condition served as a measure of the tasks in the absence of cognitive dissonance (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
In general the results indicated that the one dollar condition subjects, compared to both the twenty dollars and control condition subjects, rated the task as most enjoyable and interesting, and were most willing to participate in a similar experiment. The control condition subjects, compared to both the one dollar and twenty dollars condition subjects, rated the tasks as least enjoyable and interesting, and were least willing to participate in a similar experiment. These results suggest that the one dollar condition, compared to the twenty dollars condition, experienced the greatest effects of cognitive dissonance and therefore, the greatest pressure to change their attitudes toward the experimental task. Remember one way to alleviate cognitive dissonance is to change one's attitude. In this experiment the subject can not change his behavior, he has already told the female student that the experiment task was enjoyable, interesting, etc.. It is too late for the subject to change his behavior. The twenty dollar condition subjects, in contrast, experienced less pressure to change their attitudes toward the experimental task. The incentive (the twenty dollars) for engaging in the attitude discrepant behavior appeared to justify the behavior. This justification resulted in less pressure to change attitudes toward the experimental task (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
Another early experiment examining cognitive dissonance was conducted by Aronson and Mills (1959). They examined the effect of the severity of initiation into a group on evaluations of the group. Cognitive dissonance suggests that if individuals experience a severe initiation they are likely to experience cognitive dissonance. The cognitive dissonance in this instance involves a behavior (going through the severe initiation) attitude (whether membership in the group was actually worth the severe initiation) discrepancy. Sixty-three college females participated in Aronson and Mills' (1959) experiment. Subjects were told that they were going to discuss sex with other students. Subjects were further informed that the experimenter needed to determine whether the subject was comfortable with discussing this issue (sex), hence the "initiation."
The experiment contained one independent variable with three levels; severe initiation, mild initiation, and control condition. The severe initiation required subjects to read embarrassing sexually explicit material, out loud in the presence of the experimenter, in order to obtain admittance to the group. The mild initiation required subjects to read information that was somewhat embarrassing, in order to join the group. Once again the subjects read the information out loud and in the presence of the experimenter. The control group was not required to read any information prior to joining the group.
All subjects were granted admittance to the group. Subjects were also informed that there were required readings for each discussion. Since the subject had not read the required reading for this particular discussion, they were instructed to listen in on the discussion and not to participate. The subject then listened in on a discussion among three college females. The discussion was actually a tape recording. The benefit of this recording was that all subjects, regardless of condition, would hear the same discussion. The discussion/tape recording was very boring and dull. The three female discussants (actually a tape recording) appeared very uninterested in their discussion.
At the completion of the discussion subjects were asked to rate the discussion and the participants. Results suggested that subjects who experienced a severe initiation, compared to those who experienced a mild initiation or no initiation, rated the discussion and participants most positively. Subjects in the mild initiation condition versus the control condition did not significantly differ in their ratings of the discussion or the participants. These results suggest that individuals who experience a severe initiation also experience cognitive dissonance. Remember that cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable state and that individuals are motivated to alleviate dissonance. Alleviation in this case involves changing one's attitudes. Hence, the severe initiation subjects viewing the discussion and the participants positively.
Tedeschi, Schlenker, and Bonoma (1971) reviewed research and theory on cognitive dissonance. Their specific focus was on the factors that lead to dissonance. They criticized dissonance theory for not clearly specifying these factors and interpreted past findings (related to these factors) in the context of impression management theory. Individuals engage in impression management when they control (or manage) the image (or impression) the present to others. In this instance impression management involves presenting a consistent image to others. This consistent image results positive impressions of stability, rationality, etc.. These positive impressions are linked to an individual's ability to influence others.
Tedeschi et al. (1971) suggest that the following factors lead to dissonance; discrepant attitudes and behaviors that are freely chosen; perceptions of commitment, or an inability to change discrepant behaviors; and the importance of the attitude/behavior involved in the inconsistency (the more important the attitude/behavior, the greater the likelihood of dissonance). Tedeschi et al. (1971) also suggest that some personality types may be more prone to dissonance. For example, individuals who are high in chronic anxiety and individuals who are concerned with the social desirability of their behaviors.
Each of these causes is related to others making an internal, or dispositional, attribution regarding attitudes/behaviors (Tedeschi et al., 1971). Because individuals are concerned with the impression they make on others, and because internal attributions are an integral part of the impression individuals make on others, factors such as freely chosen behavior contribute to dissonance. A freely chosen behavior, compared to a behavior that is coerced, is much more likely to be attributed to a personality disposition.
Alleviating dissonance, according to Tedeschi et al. (1971), does not necessarily constitute an actual change in attitudes. Rather, individuals may present a superficial appearance of change, when in actuality little to no change has occurred. This superficial appearance of change is related to impression management. Tedeschi et al. (1971) further suggest that "attitudinal change" (in quotations because attitudinal change may not be actually occurring) will most likely occur when the individual is concerned with the evaluations of others. For example, if others perceive inconsistency in two internally caused attitudes, then "attitudinal change" will occur. In the absence of this evaluation, "attitudinal change" is not as likely to occur. Tedeschi et al. (1971) also suggest that individuals engage in a costs/benefits analysis when determining whether to change attitudes/behaviors. This analysis is based on the perceptions of others. An immediate benefit of change may be restoring a positive image ("realizing one's mistake" for example). However, a long term cost may be a loss of credibility.
Recent research conducted by Elliot and Devine (1994) examined psychological discomfort as a factor in dissonance. They discuss the evidence suggesting that dissonance is an arousal producing state. When an individual experiences cognitive dissonance, he/she also experiences physiological arousal (Elliot & Devine, 1994). When this arousal is labeled as negative and viewed as internally caused (e.g., an individual freely choosing to engage in attitude discrepant behavior) it becomes dissonance arousal and, in turn, the motivation to reduce dissonance. The psychological discomfort comes into play upon the internal attribution.
Elliot and Devine (1994) focused on validating the experience of psychological discomfort. They predicted that subjects experiencing cognitive dissonance will experience greater psychological discomfort compared to subjects not experiencing dissonance; and that after changing their dissonant attitudes dissonant subjects will report the same level of psychological discomfort as non-dissonant subjects. Elliot and Devine's (1994) results supported their hypothesis suggesting an interpretation of cognitive dissonance as Festinger (1957) originally envisioned it.
Harmon-Jones, Brehm, Greenberg, Simon, and Nelson (1996), like Tedeschi et al. (1971), examined the causes of dissonance. Harmon-Jones et al. (1996) focused on negative consequences for others as a cause of dissonance. Subjects in their first experiment drank either a pleasant or unpleasant tasting beverage. All subjects then wrote a sentence suggesting that they liked the beverage. Some subjects were led to believe that they had a choice as to what kind of sentence they wrote, other subjects were led to believe that they had little choice. Immediately after writing the sentence subjects threw the piece of paper, on which they wrote the sentence, away. They then rated the beverage. Subjects who drank the unpleasant beverage and who were led to believe that they had a choice as to what kind of sentence to write experienced greater dissonance than subjects who drank the unpleasant beverage and were led to believe they had little choice as to what kind of sentence to write. The former, compared to the latter, subjects rated the beverage more positively. Remember, immediately after writing the sentence subjects threw it away. Therefore, dissonance occurred in the absence of negative consequences for others because no others would view or know about the sentence.
Cognitive dissonance research began in the late fifties and continues to be conducted today. Research continues to focus on the validity of dissonance theory. Although there may be differing perspectives on the causes of dissonance, research consistently suggests that dissonance is a valid phenomenon. A new focus appears to be applications of dissonance theory. For example, inducing dissonance as a means to encourage the use of condoms (e.g., Aronson, Fried, & Stone, 1991; Stone, Aronson, Crain, Winslow, Fried, 1994). Regardless of what the future holds, cognitive dissonance is a lucrative and interesting field. References/Further Readings
Aronson, E. & Mills, J. (1959). The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59, 177-180.
Cassel, R. N., Chow, P., & Demoulin, D. F. (2001). Comparing the cognitive dissonance of 116 juvenile delinquent boys with that of 215 typical high school students. Education, 121 (3), 449-453.
Elliot, A. J. & Devine, P. G. (1994). On the motivational nature of cognitive dissonance: Dissonance as psychological discomfort. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67. 382-394.
Cooper, J., & Fazio, R. H. (1984). A new look at dissonance theory. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 17, pp. 229-266). New York: Academic press.
Dickerson, C. A., Thibodeau, R., Aronson, E., & Miller, D. (1992). Using cognitive dissonance to encourage water conservation. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22, 841-854.
Festinger, L. A. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, Ill: Row Peterson.
Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 38, 203-210.
Freedman, J. L., Cunninghman, J. A., & Krismer, K. (1992). Inferred values and the reverse-incentive effect in induced compliance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 357-368.
Harmon-Jones, E., Brehm, J. W., Greenberg, J., Simon, L., & Nelson, D. E. (1996). Evidence that the production of aversive consequences is not necessary to produce cognitive dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 5-16.
Jonas, E., Schulz-Hardt, S., Frey, D., & Thelen, N. (2001). Confirmation bias in sequential information search after preliminary decisions: An expansion of dissonance theoretical research on selective exposure to information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80 (4), 557-571.
Jones, D. N. & Ince, E. (2001). The effects of cognitive dissonance on interpersonal perception and reassertion. Current Research in Social Psychology, 7 (4).
Lodewijkx, H. F. M & Syroit, J. E. M. M. (2001). Affiliation during naturalistic severe and mild initiations: Some futher evidence against the severity-attraction hypothesis. Current Research in Social Psychology, 6 (7), 90-106.
Mahaffy, K. A. (1996). Cognitive dissonance and its resolution: A study of lesbian Christians. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35, 392-402.
Prislin, R. & Pool, G. J. (1996). Behavior, consequences, and the self: Is all well that ends well? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 933-948.
Stone, J., Aronson, E., Crain, A. L., Winslow, M. P., Fried, C. B. (1994). Inducing hypocrisy as a means of encouraging young adults to use condoms. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 116-128.
Tedeschi, J., T., Schlenker, R., R., & Bonoma, R. V. (1971). Cognitive dissonance: Private ratiocination or public spectacle? American Psychologist, 26, 685-695.