Cognitive Dissonance

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“Your best friend is having a beer bash tonight. Everyone you talk to indicated their positive intentions of going to the best beer bash of the millennium. However, you have a Psyc 135 final next morning that you haven't studied for. Your midterm scores have been low going into the final, but everyone claims that the final is easy every semester. Should you stay home and study for the final or go to this millennium beer bash and merrily consume alcohol?” Above stated scenario raises several questions in my mind and lands me in a state of psychological tension. Having a choice of attending a social event or studying for the final exam puts me in a dilemma as to what to do next. Deciding to stay home and study for a test may very well anger my friends, but may also cause a terrible sense of well being of missing out on a social event. While deciding to go to the party instead, it leads me in a state of tension as the party time can be well spent on studying for the final exam next morning. This state of uneasiness or tension is easily understood as Cognitive Dissonance. Cognitive Dissonance Theory, developed by Leon Festinger (1957), is concerned with the relationships among cognitions (Festinger, 1957). In this context, cognition can be perceived as a piece of knowledge that may inscribe an element of an attitude, an emotion, a behavior, a value, and so on (Festinger, 1957). For example, the knowledge that you like the color blue is a cognition. People hold a multitude of cognitions simultaneously, and these cognitions form irrelevant, consonant or dissonant relationships with one another. Cognitive Irrelevance probably describes the bulk of the relationships among a person’s cognitions. Irrelevance simply means that the two cognitions have nothing to do with each other. Two cognitions are consonant if one cognition fits with or is consistent with the other. People like consonance among their cognitions. We do not know whether this aspect is innate or is learned, but people do prefer cognitions that fit together to those that do not. It is this simple observation that gives the theory of cognitive dissonance its interesting form. And, two cognitions are said to be dissonant or incompatible if one cognition follows from the opposite of another (Festinger, 1957). Continuing on with the scenario, having decided to attend the beer bash, it positions me in ano... ... middle of paper ... ...t with the other (O’Keefe, 1990). In addition, if two cognitions cause a certain magnitude of dissonance, that magnitude can be reduced by adding one or more consonant cognitions, thereby abating the dissonance. This often involves rationalizing or reassurance which reinforces an existing worldview. This is called "rationalizing" because the individual seeks out semi-logical conclusions using existing cognitions and newly created consistent cognitions in order to find a way to invalidate the inconsistent cognitions (O’Keefe, 1990). Also, it may be advantageous to alter the importance of the various cognitions to reduce the level of dissonance, since the discrepant and consonant cognitions must be weighed by importance. References Berkowitz, L. & Cotton, J. (1984). Cognitive Dissonance in Selective Exposure. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 17, 357-373. O’Keefe, Daniel J. (1990). Persuasion: Theory and Research. Newbury Park, California: Sage Press. Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

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