Not to be confused with Self-awareness, Self-concept, Self-consciousness, or Self image.
Self-perception theory (SPT) is an account of attitude formation developed by psychologistDaryl Bem. It asserts that people develop their attitudes (when there is no previous attitude due to a lack of experience, etc.—and the emotional response is ambiguous) by observing their own behavior and concluding what attitudes must have caused it. The theory is counterintuitive in nature, as the conventional wisdom is that attitudes determine behaviors. Furthermore, the theory suggests that people induce attitudes without accessing internal cognition and mood states. The person interprets their own overt behaviors rationally in the same way they attempt to explain others' behaviors.
Bem's original experiment
In an attempt to decide if individuals induce their attitudes as observers without accessing their internal states, Bem used interpersonal simulations, in which an "observer-participant" is given a detailed description of one condition of a cognitive dissonance experiment. Subjects listened to a tape of a man enthusiastically describing a tedious peg-turning task.
Subjects were told that the man had been paid $20 for his testimonial and another group was told that he was paid $1. Those in the latter condition thought that the man must have enjoyed the task more than those in the $20 condition. The results obtained were similar to the original Festinger-Carlsmith experiment. Because the observers, who did not have access to the actors' internal cognition and mood states, were able to infer the true attitude of the actors, it is possible that the actors themselves also arrive at their attitudes by observing their own behavior. Specifically, Bem notes how "the attitude statements which comprise the major dependent variables in dissonance experiments may be regarded as interpersonal judgments in which the observer and the observed happen to be the same individual."
There are numerous studies conducted by psychologists that support the self-perception theory, demonstrating that emotions do follow behaviors. For example, it is found that corresponding emotions (including liking, disliking, happiness, anger, etc.) were reported following from their overt behaviors, which had been manipulated by the experimenters. These behaviors included making different facial expressions, gazes, and postures. In the end of the experiment, subjects inferred and reported their affections and attitudes from their practiced behaviors despite the fact that they were told previously to act that way. These findings are consistent with the James–Lange theory of emotion.
In 1974, James Laird otot conducted two experiments on how changes in facial expression can trigger changes in emotion. Participants were asked to contract or relax various facial muscles, causing them to smile or frown without awareness of the nature of their expressions. Participants reported feeling more angry when frowning and happier when smiling. They also reported that cartoons viewed while they were smiling were more humorous than cartoons viewed while they were frowning. Furthermore, participants scored higher on aggression during frown trials than during smile trials, and scored higher on elation, surgency, and social affection factors during smile trials than during frown ones. Laird interpreted these results as "indicating that an individual's expressive behavior mediates the quality of his emotional experience." In other words, a person's facial expression can act as a cause of an emotional state, rather than an effect; instead of smiling because they feel happy, a person can make themselves feel happy by smiling.
In 2006, Tiffany Ito and her colleagues conducted two studies to investigate if changes in facial expression can trigger changes in racial bias. The explicit goal of the studies was to determine "whether facial feedback can modulate implicit racial bias as assessed by the Implicit Association Test (IAT)." Participants were surreptitiously induced to smile through holding a pencil in their mouth while viewing photographs of unfamiliar black or white males or performed no somatic configuration while viewing the photographs (Study 1 only). All participants then completed the IAT with no facial manipulation. Results revealed a spreading attitude effect; people made to smile (unconsciously) at pictures of black males showed less implicit prejudice than those made to smile at pictures of white males. Their attitudes change as a result of their behavior.
Chaiken and Baldwin's 1981 study on self-perception theory dealt with environmental attitudes. Each participant was identified as having well or poorly defined prior attitudes toward being an environmentalist or conservationist. Participants then completed one of two versions of a questionnaire designed to bring to mind either past pro-ecology behaviors or past anti-ecology behaviors. For example, questions such as "Have you ever recycled?" call to mind the times an individual has recycled, emphasizing their engagement in environmentalist behavior. On the other hand, questions like "Do you always recycle?" bring to mind all the times an individual did not recycle something, emphasizing a lack of environmentalist behavior. Afterward, participants' attitudes toward being an environmentalist/conservationist were re-measured. Those with strong initial/prior attitudes toward the environment were not really affected by the salient manipulation. Those with weak prior attitudes, however, were affected. At the end, those in the pro-ecology condition ("Have you ever recycled?") reported themselves as being much more pro-environment than those in the anti-ecology condition ("Do you always recycle?"). Bringing to mind certain past behaviors affected what people believed their attitudes to be.
Evidence for the self-perception theory has also been seen in real life situations. After teenagers participated in repeated and sustained volunteering services, their attitudes were demonstrated to have shifted to be more caring and considerate towards others.
Research incorporating self-perception theory has continued in recent years, appearing in conjunction with studies dealing with terrorism, mindwandering, and the inclusion of others in the self.
Guadagno and her fellow experimenters did a study in 2010 addressing the recruitment of new members by terrorist organization via the internet. In addition to looking at how such an organization might influence its targets to support more extreme ideologies (primarily through simple requests gradually increasing to larger commitments–an example of the foot-in-the-door technique), the authors looked at how "the new converts may form increasingly radical attitudes to be consistent with their increasingly radical behavior." Self-perception theory, then, has strong ties to social identity and social influence in this scenario.
Also in 2010, Clayton Critcher and Thomas Gilovich performed four studies to test a connection between self-perception theory and mindwandering. Self-perception theory posits that people determine their attitudes and preferences by interpreting the meaning of their own behavior. Critcher and Gilovich looked at whether people also rely on the unobservable behavior that is their mindwandering when making inferences about their attitudes and preferences. They found that "Having the mind wander to positive events, to concurrent as opposed to past activities, and to many events rather than just one tends to be attributed to boredom and therefore leads to perceived dissatisfaction with an ongoing task." Participants relied on the content of their wandering minds as a cue to their attitudes unless an alternative cause for their mindwandering was brought to their attention.
Similarly, Goldstein and Cialdini published work related to self-perception theory in 2007. In an extension of self-perception theory, the authors hypothesized that people sometimes infer their own attributes or attitudes by "observing the freely chosen actions of others with whom they feel a sense of merged identity – almost as if they had observed themselves performing the acts." Participants were made to feel a sense of merged identity with an actor through a perspective-taking task or feedback indicating overlapping brainwave patterns. Participants incorporated attributes relevant to the actor's behavior into their own self-concepts, leading participants to then change their own behaviors. The study addresses the self-expansion model: close relationships can lead to an inclusion of another person in an individual's sense of self.
One useful application of the self-perception theory is in changing attitude, both therapeutically and in terms of persuasion.
For therapies, self-perception theory holds a different view of psychological problems from the traditional perspectives. Traditionally, psychological problems come from the inner part of the clients. However, self-perception theory perspective suggests that people derive their inner feelings or abilities from their external behaviors. If those behaviors are maladjusted ones, people will attribute those maladjustments to their poor adapting abilities and thus suffer from the corresponding psychological problems. Thus, this concept can be used to treat clients with psychological problems that resulted from maladjustments by guiding them to first change their behavior and later dealing with the "problems".
One of the most famous therapies making use of this concept is therapy for "heterosocial anxiety". In this case, the assumption is that an individual perceives that he or she has poor social skills because he/she has no dates. Experiments showed that males with heterosocial anxiety perceived less anxiety with females after several sessions of therapy in which they engaged in a 12-minute, purposefully biased dyadic social interactions with a separate females. From these apparently successful interactions, the males inferred that their heterosocial anxiety was reduced. This effect is shown to be quite long-lasting as the reduction in perceived heterosocial anxiety resulted in a significantly greater number of dates among subjects 6 months later.
Marketing and persuasion
Self-perception theory is also an underlying mechanism for the effectiveness of many marketing or persuasive techniques. One typical example is the foot-in-the-door technique, which is a widely used marketing technique for persuading target customers to buy products. The basic premise of this technique is that, once a person complies with a small request (e.g. filling in a short questionnaire), he/she will be more likely to comply with a more substantial request which is related to the original request (e.g. buying the related product). The idea is that the initial commitment on the small request will change one's self-image, therefore giving reasons for agreeing with the subsequent, larger request. It is because people observe their own behaviors (paying attention to and complying with the initial request) and the context in which they behave (no obvious incentive to do so), and thus infer they must have a preference for those products.
Challenges and criticisms
Self-perception theory was initially proposed as an alternative to explain the experimental findings of the cognitive dissonance theory, and there were debates as to whether people experience attitude changes as an effort to reduce dissonance or as a result of self-perception processes. Based on the fact that the self-perception theory differs from the cognitive dissonance theory in that it does not hold that people experience a "negative drive state" called "dissonance" which they seek to relieve, the following experiment was carried out to compare the two theories under different conditions.
An early study on cognitive dissonance theory shows that people indeed experience arousal when their behavior is inconsistent with their previous attitude. Waterman designed an experiment in which participants were asked to write an essay arguing against the position they actually agreed with. Then they were asked immediately to perform a simple task and a difficult task; their performance in both tasks was assessed. It was found that they performed better in the simple task and worse in the difficult task, compared to those who had just written an essay corresponding to their true attitude. As indicated by social facilitation, enhanced performance in simple tasks and worsened performance in difficult tasks shows that arousal is produced by people when their behavior is inconsistent with their attitude. Therefore, the cognitive dissonance theory is evident in this case.
Debate ensued over whether dissonance or self-perception was the valid mechanism behind attitude change. The chief difficulty lay in finding an experiment where the two flexible theories would make distinctly different predictions. Some prominent social psychologists such as Anthony Greenwald thought it would be impossible to distinguish between the two theories.
In 1974, Zanna and Cooper conducted an experiment in which individuals were made to write a counter-attitudinal essay. They were divided into either a low choice or a high choice condition. They were also given a placebo; they were told the placebo would induce either tension, relaxation, or exert no effect. Under low choice, all participants exhibited no attitude change, which would be predicted by both cognitive dissonance theory and self-perception theory. Interestingly, under high choice, participants who were told the placebo would produce tension exhibited no attitude change, and participants who were told the placebo would produce relaxation demonstrated larger attitude change.
These results are not explainable by self-perception theory, as arousal should have nothing to do with the mechanism underlying attitude change. Cognitive dissonance theory, however, was readily able to explain these results: if the participants could attribute their state of unpleasant arousal to the placebo, they would not have to alter their attitude.
Thus, for a period of time, it seemed the debate between the self-perception theory and cognitive dissonance had ended.
Reviving the theory: the truce experiment
Fazio, Zanna, and Cooper conducted another experiment in 1977, demonstrating that both cognitive dissonance and self-perception could co-exist.
In an experimental design similar to Zanna and Cooper's 1974 study, another variable was manipulated: whether or not the stance of the counter-attitudinal essay fell in the latitude of acceptance or the latitude of rejection (see social judgment theory). It appeared that when the stance of the essay fell into the latitude of rejection, the results favoured cognitive dissonance. However, when the essay fell in the latitude of acceptance, the results favoured self-perception theory.
Whether cognitive dissonance or self-perception is a more useful theory is a topic of considerable controversy and a large body of literature. There are some circumstances in which a certain theory is preferred, but it is traditional to use the terminology of cognitive dissonance theory by default. The cognitive dissonance theory accounts for attitude changes when people's behaviors are inconsistent with their original attitudes which are clear and important to them; meanwhile, the self-perception theory is used when those original attitudes are relatively ambiguous and less important. Studies have shown that, in contrast to traditional belief, a large proportion of people's attitudes are weak and vague. Thus, the self-perception theory is significant in interpreting one's own attitudes, such as the assessment of one's own personality traits and whether someone would cheat to achieve a goal.
According to G. Jademyr and Yojiyfus, the perception of different aspect in the interpreting theory can be due to many factors, such as circumstances regarding dissonance and controversy. This can also be because of balance theory as it applies to the attitude towards accountability and dimensions.
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In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.
In A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957), Leon Festinger proposed that human beings strive for internal psychological consistency in order to mentally function in the real world. A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance. This is done by making changes to justify their stressful behavior, either by adding new parts to the cognition causing the psychological dissonance, or by actively avoiding social situations and/or contradictory information likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance.
Relations among cognitions
To function in the reality of a modern society, human beings continually adjust the correspondence of their mental attitudes and personal actions; such continual adjustments, between cognition and action, result in one of three relationships with reality:
- 'Consonant relationship': Two cognitions or actions consistent with each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out to dinner, and ordering water rather than wine)
- 'Irrelevant relationship': Two cognitions or actions unrelated to each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out, and wearing a shirt)
- 'Dissonant relationship': Two cognitions or actions inconsistent with each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out, then drinking more wine)
Magnitude of dissonance
The reduction of the psychological stress of cognitive dissonance is a function of the magnitude of the dissonance caused by the existential inconsistency between two contradictory beliefs held by the person, or the contradiction between the person's beliefs and an action taken and realised by him or her. Two factors determine the degree of psychological dissonance caused by two conflicting cognitions or by two conflicting actions:
- 'The importance of cognitions': The greater the personal value of the elements, the greater the magnitude of the dissonance in the relation.
- 'Ratio of cognitions': The proportion of dissonant-to-consonant elements.
Cognitive dissonance theory proposes that people seek psychological consistency between their personal expectations of life and the existential reality of life. To function by that expectation of existential consistency, people practice the process of dissonance reduction in order to continually align their cognitions (perceptions of the world) with their actions in the real world.
The creation and establishment of psychological consistency allows the person afflicted with cognitive dissonance to lessen his or her mental stress by actions that reduce the magnitude of the dissonance, realised either by changing with or by justifying against, or by being indifferent to the existential contradiction that is inducing the mental stress. In practice, people reduce the magnitude of their cognitive dissonance in four ways:
- Change the behavior or the cognition ("I'll eat no more of this doughnut.")
- Justify the behavior or the cognition, by changing the conflicting cognition ("I'm allowed to cheat my diet every once in a while.")
- Justify the behavior or the cognition by adding new cognitions ("I'll spend thirty extra minutes at the gymnasium to work off the doughnut.")
- Ignore or deny information that conflicts with existing beliefs ("This doughnut is not a high-sugar food.")
That a consistent psychology is required for functioning in the real world also was indicated in the results of The Psychology of Prejudice (2006), wherein people facilitate their functioning in the real world by employing human categories (i.e. sex and gender, age and race, etc.) with which they manage their social interactions with other people. The employment of human categories is integral to a functional scheme of stereotypes (social attitudes) about each category of person, such as generalized prejudices, negative beliefs, ideals, and values about the category of person who is causing the cognitive dissonance.
Likewise, the study Patterns of Cognitive Dissonance-reducing Beliefs Among Smokers: A Longitudinal Analysis from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey (2012) indicated that smokers use justification beliefs to reduce their cognitive dissonance about smoking tobacco and the negative consequences of smoking tobacco.
- Continuing smokers (Smoking and no attempt to quit since the previous round of study.)
- Successful quitters (Quit during the study and did not use tobacco from the time of the previous round of study.)
- Failed quitters (Quit during the study, but relapsed to smoking at the time of the study.)
To reduce cognitive dissonance, the participant smokers adjusted their beliefs to correspond with their actions:
- Functional beliefs ("Smoking calms me down when I am stressed or upset."; "Smoking helps me concentrate better."; "Smoking is an important part of my life."; and "Smoking makes it easier for me to socialize.")
- Risk-minimizing beliefs ("The medical evidence that smoking is harmful is exaggerated."; "One has to die of something, so why not enjoy yourself and smoke?"; and "Smoking is no more risky than many other things people do.")
There are four theoretic paradigms of cognitive dissonance, the mental stress people suffer when exposed to contradictory information that is inconsistent with their prior beliefs, ideals, or values; (i) Belief Disconfirmation, (ii) Induced Compliance, (iii) Free Choice, and (iv) Effort Justification; which respectively explain: what happens after a person acts inconsistently, relative to his or her prior intellectual perspectives; what happens after a person makes decisions; and what are the effects upon a person who has expended much effort to achieve a goal. Common to each paradigm of cognitive-dissonance theory is the tenet: People invested in a given perspective shall—when confronted with disconfirming evidence—expend great effort to justify retaining the challenged perspective.
The disconfirmation (contradiction) of a belief, ideal, or system of values causes cognitive dissonance that can be resolved by changing the belief under contradiction; yet, instead of effecting change, the resultant mental stress restores psychological consonance to the person, by misperception, rejection, or refutation of the contradiction; seeking moral support from people who share the contradicted beliefs; or acting to persuade other people that the contradiction is unreal.
The early hypothesis of belief disconfirmation presented in When Prophecy Fails (1956) reported that faith deepened among the members of an apocalyptic religious cult, despite the failed prophecy of an alien spacecraft soon to land on Earth, to rescue them from earthly corruption. At the determined place and time, the cult assembled; they believed that only they would survive planetary destruction; yet the spaceship did not arrive to Earth. The disconfirmed prophecy caused them acute cognitive-dissonance: Had they been victims of a hoax? Had they vainly donated away their material possessions? To resolve the dissonance, between apocalyptic, end-of-the-world religious beliefs and earthly, material reality, most of the cult restored their psychological consonance by choosing to hold a less mentally-stressful idea to explain the missed landing. That the aliens had given planet Earth a second chance at existence, which, in turn, empowered them to re-direct their religious cult to environmentalism; social advocacy to end human damage to planet Earth. Moreover, upon overcoming the disconfirmed belief by changing to global environmentalism, the cult increased in numbers, by successful proselytism.
The study of The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference (2008) reported the belief disconfirmation occurred to the Chabad Orthodox Jewish congregation who believed that their Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson) was the Messiah. Yet, when he died of a stroke in 1994, instead of accepting that their Rebbe was not the Messiah, some of the congregants proved indifferent to that contradictory fact and continued claiming that Schneerson was the Messiah, and that he would soon return from the dead.
See also: Forced compliance theory
In the Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance (1959), the investigators Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith asked students to spend an hour doing tedious tasks; e.g. turning pegs a quarter-turn, at fixed intervals. The tasks were designed to induce a strong, negative, mental attitude in the subjects. Once the subjects had done the tasks, the experimenters asked one group of subjects to speak with another subject (an actor) and persuade that impostor-subject that the tedious tasks were interesting and engaging. Subjects of one group were paid twenty dollars ($20); those in a second group were paid one dollar ($1); and those in the control group were not asked to speak with the imposter-subject.
At the conclusion of the study, when asked to rate the tedious tasks, the subjects of the second group (paid $1) rated the tasks more positively than did the subjects in the first group (paid $20) and than did the subjects of the control group; the responses of the paid subjects were evidence of cognitive dissonance. The researchers, Festinger and Carlsmith, proposed that the subjects experienced dissonance, between the conflicting cognitions: "I told someone that the task was interesting" and "I actually found it boring." Moreover, the subjects paid one dollar were induced to comply, compelled to internalize the "interesting task" mental attitude because they had no other justification. The subjects paid twenty dollars were induced to comply by way of an obvious, external justification for internalizing the "interesting task" mental attitude and, thus, experienced a lesser degree of cognitive dissonance.
- Forbidden Behaviour paradigm
In the Effect of the Severity of Threat on the Devaluation of Forbidden Behavior (1963), a variant of the induced-compliance paradigm, by Elliot Aronson and Carlsmith, examined self-justification in children. In the experiment, children were left in a room with a variety of toys, including a greatly desirable steam shovel, the forbidden toy. Upon leaving the room, the experimenter told one-half of the group of children that there would be severe punishment if they played with the steam-shovel toy; and told the second half of the group that there would be a mild punishment for playing with the forbidden toy. All of the children refrained from playing with the forbidden toy (the steam shovel).
Later, when the children were told that they could freely play with any toy they wanted, the children in the mild-punishment group were less likely to play with the steam shovel (the forbidden toy), despite removal of the threat of severe punishment. The children threatened with mild punishment had to justify, to themselves, why they did not play with the forbidden toy. The degree of punishment, in itself, was insufficiently strong to resolve their cognitive dissonance; the children had to convince themselves that playing with the forbidden toy was not worth the effort.
In The Efficacy of Musical Emotions Provoked by Mozart's Music for the Reconciliation of Cognitive Dissonance (2012), a variant of the forbidden-toy paradigm, indicated that listening to music reduces the development of cognitive dissonance. Without music in the background, the control group of four-year-old children were told to avoid playing with a forbidden toy. After playing alone, the control-group children later devalued the importance of the forbidden toy; however, in the variable group, classical music played in the background, while the children played alone. In that group, the children did not later devalue the forbidden toy. The researchers, Nobuo Masataka and Leonid Perlovsky, concluded that music might inhibit cognitions that reduce cognitive dissonance.
Moreover, music is a stimulus that can diminish post-decisional dissonance; in an earlier experiment, Washing Away Postdecisional Dissonance (2010), the researchers indicated that the actions of hand-washing might inhibit the cognitions that reduce cognitive dissonance.
In the study Post-decision Changes in Desirability of Alternatives (1956) 225 women students rated a series of domestic appliances and then were asked to choose one of two appliances as a gift. The results of a second round of ratings indicated that the women students increased their ratings of the domestic appliance they had selected as a gift and decreased their ratings of the appliances they rejected.
This type of cognitive dissonance occurs to a person faced with making a difficult decision, wherein there always exist aspects of the rejected-object not chosen, which appeal to the person making the choice. The action of deciding provokes the psychological dissonance consequent to choosing X instead of Y, despite little difference between X and Y; thus, the decision "I chose X" is dissonant with the cognition that "There are some aspects of Y that I like." Moreover, the study Choice-induced Preferences in the Absence of Choice: Evidence from a Blind Two-choice Paradigm with Young Children and Capuchin Monkeys (2010) reports similar results in the occurrence of cognitive dissonance in human beings and in animals.
Peer Effects in Pro-Social Behavior: Social Norms or Social Preferences? (2013) indicated that, in addition to internal deliberation, the structuring of decisions among people can influence how a person acts individually. That social preferences and social norms are related, and function in line with wage-giving among three persons. The actions of the first person influenced[clarification needed] the wage-giving actions of the second person. That inequity aversion is the paramount concern of the participants.
Further information: Effort justification
Cognitive dissonance occurs to a person when he or she voluntarily engages in (physically or ethically) unpleasant activities in effort to achieve a desired goal. The mental stress caused by the dissonance can be reduced by the person's exaggerating the desirability of the goal. In The Effect of Severity of Initiation on Liking for a Group (1956), to qualify for admission to a discussion group, two groups of people underwent an embarrassing initiation, of varied psychologic severity. The first group of subjects were to read aloud twelve sexual words considered obscene; the second group of subjects were to read aloud twelve sexual words not considered obscene.
Both groups then were given headphones to unknowingly listen to a recorded discussion about animal sexual behaviour, which the researchers designed to be dull and banal. As the subjects of the experiment, the groups of people were told that the animal-sexuality discussion actually was occurring in the next room. The subjects whose strong initiation required reading aloud obscene words evaluated the people of their group as more-interesting persons than the people of the group who underwent the mild initiation to the discussion group.
Moreover, in Washing Away Your Sins: Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing (2006), the results indicated that a person washing his or her hands is an action that helps resolve post-decisional cognitive dissonance because the mental stress usually was caused by the person's ethical–moral self-disgust, which is an emotion related to the physical disgust caused by a dirty environment.
Likewise, the study The Neural Basis of Rationalization: Cognitive Dissonance Reduction During Decision-making (2011) indicated that participants rated 80 names and 80 paintings based on how much they liked the names and paintings. To give meaning to the decisions, the participants were asked to select names that they might give to their children. For rating the paintings, the participants were asked to base their ratings on whether or not they would display such art at home.
The results indicated that when the decision is meaningful to the person deciding value, the likely rating is based on his or her attitudes (positive, neutral, or negative) towards the name and towards the painting in question. The participants also were asked to rate some of the objects twice and believed that, at session's end, they would receive two of the paintings they had positively rated. The results indicated a great increase in the positive attitude of the participant towards the liked pair of things, whilst also increasing the negative attitude towards the disliked pair of things. The double-ratings of pairs of things, towards which the rating participant had a neutral attitude, showed no changes during the rating period. Therefore, the existing attitudes of the participant were reinforced during the rating period, and the participants suffered cognitive dissonance when confronted by a liked-name paired with a disliked-painting.
The Fox and the Grapes
The fable of "The Fox and the Grapes", by Aesop, is an exemplar of cognitive dissonance and dissonance reduction by the subversion of rationality. A fox spies high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When unable to reach the grapes, the fox decides the fruit are not worth eating, and he justifies his decision by claiming to himself that the grapes likely are sour, for being unripe.
The moral of the fable is that "Any fool can despise what he cannot get"; hence the popular phrase about dismissing a thwarted goal as "unimportant" is mere expression of sour grapes. The pattern of psychological behaviour illustrated in the fable of "The Fox and the Grapes" indicates that: When a person desires something and finds that it is unattainable, he or she diminishes the resultant cognitive dissonance by criticizing the object of desire as worthless; said pattern of behaviour is an "adaptive preference formation" that allows the person to subvert rationality.
Unpleasant medical screenings
In the study Cognitive Dissonance and Attitudes Toward Unpleasant Medical Screenings (2016), the researchers Michael R. Ent and Mary A Gerend informed the study participants about a discomforting test for a specific (fictitious) virus called the "human respiratory virus-27". The study used a fake virus to prevent participants from having thoughts, opinions, and feeling about the virus that would interfere with the experiment. The study participants were in two groups; one group was told that they were actual candidates for the virus-27 test, and the second group were told they were not candidates for the test. The researchers reported, "We predicted that [study] participants who thought that they were candidates for the unpleasant test would experience dissonance associated with knowing that the test was both unpleasant and in their best interest—this dissonance was predicted to result in unfavorable attitudes toward the test."
Cognitive dissonance may also occur when people seek to:
- Explain inexplicable feelings: When an earthquake disaster occurs to a community, irrational rumours, based upon fear, quickly reach the adjoining communities unaffected by the disaster because those people, not in physical danger, psychologically justify their anxieties about the earthquake.
- Minimize regret of irrevocable choices: At a hippodrome, bettors have more confidence after betting on horses they chose just before the post-time because this confidence prevents a change of heart; the bettors felt post-decision cognitive dissonance.
- Justify behavior that opposed their views: After being induced to cheat in an academic examination, students judged cheating less harshly.
- Align one's perceptions of a person with one's behavior toward that person: the Ben Franklin effect refers to that statesman's observation that the act of performing a favor for a rival leads to increased positive feelings toward that individual.
- Reaffirm held beliefs: The confirmation bias identifies how people readily read information that confirms their established opinions and readily avoid reading information that contradicts their opinions. For example, a right-wing person usually only listens to political commentary from conservative news sources, just as a left-wing person only listens to political commentary from liberal news sources. The confirmation bias is apparent when a person confronts deeply-held political beliefs, i.e. when a person is greatly committed to his or her beliefs, values, and ideas.
The management of cognitive dissonance readily influences the motivation of a student to pursue education. The study Turning Play into Work: Effects of Adult Surveillance and Extrinsic Rewards on Children’s Intrinsic Motivation (1975) indicated that the application of the effort justification paradigm increased student enthusiasm for education with the offer of an external reward for studying; students in pre-school who completed puzzles based upon an adult promise of reward were later less interested in the puzzles than were students who completed the puzzle-tasks without the promise of a reward.
The incorporation of cognitive dissonance into models of basic learning-processes to foster the students’ self-awareness of psychological conflicts among their personal beliefs, ideals, and values and the reality of contradictory facts and information, requires the students to defend their personal beliefs. Afterwards, the students are trained to objectively perceive new facts and information to resolve the psychological stress of the conflict between reality and the student’s value system. Moreover, educational software that applies the derived principles facilitates the students’ ability to successfully handle the questions posed in a complex subject.Meta-analysis of studies indicates that psychologic interventions that provoke cognitive dissonance in order to achieve a directed conceptual change do increase students’ learning in reading skills and about science.
The general effectiveness of psychotherapy and psychological intervention is partly explained by the theory of cognitive dissonance. In that vein, social psychology proposed that the mental health of the patient is positively influenced by his and her action in freely choosing a specific therapy and in exerting the required, therapeutic effort to overcome cognitive dissonance. That effective phenomenon was indicated in the results of the study Effects of Choice on Behavioral Treatment of Overweight Children (1983), wherein the children's belief that they freely chose the type of therapy received, resulted in each overweight child losing a greater amount of excessive body weight.
In the study Reducing Fears and Increasing Attentiveness: The Role of Dissonance Reduction (1980), people afflicted with ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) who invested much effort in activities of little therapeutic value for them (experimentally represented as legitimate and relevant) showed improved alleviation of the symptoms of their phobia. Likewise, the results of Cognitive Dissonance and Psychotherapy: The Role of Effort Justification in Inducing Weight Loss (1985) indicated that the patient felt better in justifying his or her efforts and therapeutic choices towards effectively losing weight. That the therapy of effort expenditure can predict long-term change in the patient’s perceptions.
Cognitive dissonance is used to promote positive social behaviours, such as increased condom use; other studies indicate that cognitive dissonance can be used to encourage people to act pro-socially, such as campaigns against public littering, campaigns against racial prejudice, and compliance with anti-speeding campaigns. The theory can also be used to explain reasons for donating to charity. Cognitive dissonance can be applied in social areas such as racism and racial hatred. Acharya of Stanford, Blackwell and Sen of Harvard state CD increases when an individual commits an act of violence toward someone from a different ethnic or racial group and decreases when the individual does not commit any such act of violence. Research from Acharya, Blackwell and Sen shows that individuals committing violence against members of another group will develop hostile attitudes towards their victims as a way of minimizing CD. Importantly, the hostile attitudes may persist even after the violence itself declines (Acharya, Blackwell, Sen 2015). The application provides a social psychological basis for the constructivist viewpoint that ethnic and racial divisions can be socially or individually constructed, possibly from acts of violence (Fearon and Laitin, 2000). Their framework speaks to this possibility by showing how violent actions by individuals can affect individual attitudes, either ethnic or racial animosity (Acharya, Blackwell, Sen 2015).
Three main conditions exist for provoking cognitive dissonance when buying: (i) The decision to purchase must be important, such as the sum of money to spend; (ii) The psychological cost; and (iii) The purchase is personally relevant to the consumer. The consumer is free to select from the alternatives, and the decision to buy is irreversible.
The study Beyond Reference Pricing: Understanding Consumers' Encounters with Unexpected Prices (2003), indicated that when consumers experience an unexpected price encounter, they adopt three methods to reduce cognitive dissonance: (i) Employ a strategy of continual information; (ii) Employ a change in attitude; and (iii) Engage in minimisation. Consumers employ the strategy of continual information by engaging in bias and searching for information that supports prior beliefs. Consumers might search for information about other retailers and substitute products consistent with their beliefs. Alternatively, consumers might change attitude, such as re-evaluating price in relation to external reference-prices or associating high prices and low prices with quality. Minimisation reduces the importance of the elements of the dissonance; consumers tend to minimise the importance of money, and thus of shopping around, saving, and finding a better deal.
Cognitive dissonance theory might suggest that since votes are an expression of preference or beliefs, even the act of voting might cause someone to defend the actions of the candidate for whom they voted, and if the decision was close then the effects of cognitive dissonance should be greater.
In the 2016 United States Presidential election, 15% of voters were undecided 3 days before the general election. This might indicate that those undecided voters who voted for Donald Trump might be more likely to defend his future actions while those who voted for Hillary Clinton will be more likely to condemn Trump's actions and defend Clinton's.
This effect was studied over the 6 presidential elections between 1972 and 1996, and it was found that that the opinion differential between the candidates changed more before and after the election than the opinion differential of non-voters. In addition, elections where the voter had a favorable attitude toward both candidates, making the choice more difficult, had the opinion differential of the candidates change more dramatically than those who only had a favorable opinion of one candidate. What wasn't studied were the cognitive dissonance effects in cases where the person had unfavorable attitudes toward both candidates. Since the 2016 election held historically high unfavorable ratings for both candidates, this would be a good case study to examine the cognitive dissonance effects in these instances.
In The Gestalt Theory of Motivation (1960), the social psychologist Daryl Bem proposed the self-perception theory whereby people do not think much about their attitudes, even when engaged in a conflict with another person. The Theory of Self-perception proposes that people develop attitudes by observing their own behaviour, and concludes that their attitudes caused the behaviour observed by self-perception; especially true when internal cues either are ambiguous or weak. Therefore, the person is in the same position as an observer who must rely upon external cues to infer his or her inner state of mind. Self-perception theory proposes that people adopt attitudes without access to their states of mood and cognition.
As such, the experimental subjects of the Festinger and Carlsmith study (Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance, 1959) inferred their mental attitudes from their own behaviour. When the subject-participants were asked: "Did you find the task interesting?", the participants decided that they must have found the task interesting, because that is what they told the questioner. Their replies suggested that the participants who were paid twenty dollars had an external incentive to adopt that positive attitude, and likely perceived the twenty dollars as the reason for saying the task was interesting, rather than saying the task actually was interesting.
The theory of self-perception (Bem) and the theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger) make identical predictions, but only the theory of cognitive dissonance predicts the presence of unpleasant arousal, of psychological distress, which were verified in laboratory experiments.
In The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance: A Current Perspective (1969), Elliot Aronson linked cognitive dissonance to the self-concept: That mental stress arises when the conflicts among cognitions threatens the person's positive self-image. This reinterpretation of the original Festinger and Carlsmith study, using the induced-compliance paradigm, proposed that the dissonance was between the cognitions "I am an honest person." and "I lied about finding the task interesting."
The study Cognitive Dissonance: Private Ratiocination or Public Spectacle? (1971) reported that maintaining cognitive consistency, rather than protecting a private self-concept, is how a person protects his or her public self-image. Moreover, the results reported in the study I’m No Longer Torn After Choice: How Explicit Choices Implicitly Shape Preferences of Odors (2010) contradict such an explanation, by showing the occurrence of revaluation of material items, after the person chose and decided, even after having forgotten the choice.
Main article: Balance theory
Fritz Heider proposed a motivational theory of attitude change that functions on the idea that humans are driven to establish and maintain psychological balance. This drive is known as the consistency motive—the urge to maintain one's values and beliefs over time. According to balance theory there are three things interacting: (1) you (P), (2) another person (O), and (3) an element (X). These are each positioned at one point of a triangle and share two relations:
- Unit relations – things and people that belong together based on similarity, proximity, fate, etc.
- Sentiment relations – evaluations of people and things (liking, disliking)
As people, human beings seek a balanced state of relations among three positions; 3 positives or 2 negatives, 1 positive:P = you O = John X = John's dog
- "I don't like John"
- "John has a dog"
- "I don't like the dog either"
People also avoid unbalanced states of relations; 3 negatives or 2 positives, 1 negative)P = you O = your child X = picture your child drew
- "I love my child"
- "She drew me this picture"
- "I love this picture"
In the study On the Measurement of the Utility of Public Works (1969), Jules Dupuit reported that behaviors and cognitions can be understood from an economic perspective, wherein people engage in the systematic processing of comparing the costs and benefits of a decision. The psychological process of cost-benefit comparisons helps the person to assess and justify the feasibility (spending money) of an economic decision, and is the basis for determining if the benefit outweighs the cost, and to what extent. Moreover, although the method of cost-benefit analysis functions in economic circumstances, men and women remain psychologically inefficient at comparing the costs against the benefits of their economic decision.
E. Tory Higgins proposed that people have three selves, to which they compare themselves:
- Actual self – representation of the attributes the person believes him- or herself to possess (basic self-concept)
- Ideal self – ideal attributes the person would like to possess (hopes, aspiration, motivations to change)
- Ought self – ideal attributes the person believes he or she should possess (duties, obligations, responsibilities)
When these self-guides are contradictory psychological distress (cognitive dissonance) results. People are motivated to reduce self-discrepancy (the gap between two self-guides).
Averse consequences vs. inconsistency
During the 1980s, Cooper and Fazio argued that dissonance was caused by aversive consequences, rather than inconsistency. According to this interpretation, the belief that lying is wrong and hurtful, not the inconsistency between cognitions, is what makes people feel bad. Subsequent research, however, found that people experience dissonance even when they feel they have not done anything wrong. For example, Harmon-Jones and colleagues showed that people experience dissonance even when the consequences of their statements are beneficial—as when they convince sexually active students to use condoms, when they, themselves are not using condoms.
Criticism of the free-choice paradigm
In the study How Choice Affects and Reflects Preferences: Revisiting the Free-choice Paradigm (2010) the researchers criticized the free-choice paradigm as invalid, because the rank-choice-rank method is inaccurate for the study of cognitive dissonance. That the designing of research-models relies upon the assumption that, if the experimental subject rates options differently in the second survey, then the attitudes of the subject towards the options have changed. That there are other reasons why an experimental subject might achieve different rankings in the second survey; perhaps the subjects were indifferent between choices.
Although the results of some follow-up studies (e.g. Do Choices Affect Preferences? Some Doubts and New Evidence, 2013) presented evidence of the unreliability of the rank-choice-rank method, the results of studies such as Neural Correlates of Cognitive Dissonance and Choice-induced Preference Change (2010) have not found the Choice-Rank-Choice method to be invalid, and indicate that making a choice can change the preferences of a person.
The action–motivation model proposes that inconsistencies in a person's cognition cause mental stress, because psychologic inconsistency interferes with the person's functioning in the real world. Among the ways for coping, the person can choose to exercise a behavior that is inconsistent with his or her current attitude (a belief, an ideal, a value system), but later try to alter that belief to be consonant with a current behaviour; the cognitive dissonance occurs when the person's cognition does not match the action taken. If the person changes the current attitude, after the dissonance occurs, he or she then is obligated to commit to that course of behaviour.
The occurrence of cognitive dissonance produces a state of negative affect, which motivates the person to reconsider the causative behaviour, in order to resolve the psychologic inconsistency that caused the mental stress. As the afflicted person works towards a behavioural commitment, the motivational process then is activated in the left frontal cortex of the brain.
The study Neural Activity Predicts Attitude Change in Cognitive Dissonance (2009) identified the neural bases of cognitive dissonance with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); the neural scans of the participants replicated the basic findings of the induced-compliance paradigm. When in the fMRI scanner, some of the study participants argued that the uncomfortable, mechanical environment of the MRI machine nevertheless was a pleasant experience for them; some participants, from an experimental group, said they enjoyed the mechanical environment of the fMRI scanner more than did the control-group participants (paid actors) who argued about the uncomfortable experimental environment.
The results of the neural scan experiment support the original theory of Cognitive Dissonance proposed by Festinger in 1957; and also support the psychological conflict theory, whereby the anterior cingulate functions, in counter-attitudinal response, to activate the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insular cortex; the degree of activation of said regions of the brain is predicted by the degree of change in the psychological attitude of the person.
As an application of the free-choice paradigm, the study How Choice Reveals and Shapes Expected Hedonic Outcome (2009) indicates that after making a choice, neural activity in the striatum changes to reflect the person's new evaluation of the choice-object; neural activity increased if the object was chosen, neural activity decreased if the object was rejected. Moreover, studies such as The Neural Basis of Rationalization: Cognitive Dissonance Reduction During Decision-making (2010) and How Choice Modifies Preference: Neural Correlates of Choice Justification (2011) confirm the neural bases of the psychology of cognitive dissonance.
The Neural Basis of Rationalization: Cognitive Dissonance Reduction During Decision-making (2010) applied the free-choice paradigm to fMRI examination of the brain's decision-making process whilst the study participant actively tried to reduce cognitive dissonance. The results indicated that the active reduction of psychological dissonance increased neural activity in the right-inferior frontal gyrus, in the medial fronto-parietal region, and in the ventral striatum, and that neural activity decreased in the anterior insula. That the neural activities of rationalization occur in seconds, without conscious deliberation on the part of the person; and that the brain engages in emotional responses whilst effecting decisions.
The results reported in Contributions from Research on Anger and Cognitive Dissonance to Understanding the Motivational Functions of Asymmetrical Frontal Brain Activity (2004) indicate that the occurrence of cognitive dissonance is associated with neural activity in the left frontal cortex, a brain structure also associated with the emotion of anger; moreover, functionally, anger motivates neural activity in the left frontal cortex. Applying a directional model of Approach motivation, the study Anger and the Behavioural Approach System (2003) indicated that the relation between cognitive dissonance and anger is supported by neural activity in the left frontal cortex that occurs when a person takes control of the social situation causing the cognitive dissonance. Conversely, if the person cannot control or cannot change the psychologically stressful situation, he or she is without a motivation to change the circumstance, then there arise other, negative emotions to manage the cognitive dissonance, such as socially inappropriate behavior.
The anterior cingulate cortex activity increases when errors occur and are being monitored as well as having behavioral conflicts with the self-concept as a form of higher-level thinking. A study was done to test the prediction that the left frontal cortex would have increased activity. University students had to write a paper depending on if they were assigned to a high-choice or low-choice condition. The low-choice condition required student to write about supporting a 10% increase in tuition at their university. The point of this condition was to see how significant the counterchoice may affect a person's ability to cope. The high-choice condition asked students to write in favor of tuition increase as if it was their choice and that it was completely voluntary. EEG was used to analyze students before writing the essay as dissonance is at its highest during this time (Beauvois and Joule, 1996). High-choice condition participants showed a higher level of the left frontal cortex than the low-choice participants. Results have shown that the initial experience of dissonance can be apparent in the anterior cingulate cortex, then the left frontal cortex is activated, which also activates the approach motivational system to reduce anger.
The psychology of mental stress
The results reported in The Origins of Cognitive Dissonance: Evidence from Children and Monkeys (2007) indicated that there might be evolutionary force behind the reduction of cognitive dissonance in the actions of pre-school-age children and Capuchin monkeys when offered a choice between two like options, decals and candies. The groups then were offered a new choice, between the choice-object not chosen and a novel choice-object that was as attractive as the first object. The resulting choices of the human and simian subjects concorded with the theory of cognitive dissonance when the children and the monkeys each chose the novel choice-object in stead of the choice-object not chosen in the first selection, despite every object having the same value.
The hypothesis of An Action-based Model of Cognitive-dissonance Processes (2015) proposed that psychological dissonance occurs consequent to the stimulation of thoughts that interfere with a goal-driven behavior. Researchers mapped the neural activity of the participant when performing tasks that provoked psychological stress when engaged in contradictory behaviors. A participant read aloud the printed name of a color. To test for the occurrence of cognitive dissonance, the name of the color was printed in a color different than the word read aloud by the participant. As a result, the participants experienced increased neural activity in the anterior cingulate cortex when the experimental exercises provoked psychological dissonance.
The study Cognitive Neuroscience of Social Emotions and Implications for Psychopathology: Examining Embarrassment, Guilt, Envy, and Schadenfreude (2014) identified neural correlations to specific social emotions (e.g. envy and embarrassment) as a measure of cognitive dissonance. The neural activity for the emotion of Envy (the feeling of displeasure at the good fortune of another person) was found to draw neural activity from the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. That such increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex occurred either when a person’s self-concept was threatened or when the person suffered embarrassment (social pain) caused by salient, upward social-comparison, by social-class snobbery. That social emotions, such as embarrassment, guilt, envy, and Schadenfreude (joy at the misfortune of another person) are correlated to reduced activity in the insular lobe, and with increased activity in the striate nucleus; those neural activities are associated with a reduced sense of empathy (social responsibility) and an increased propensity towards antisocial behavior (delinquency).
Modeling in neural networks
Artificial neural network models of cognition provide methods for integrating the results of empirical research and of cognitive dissonance and attitudes into a single model that explains the formation of psychological attitudes and the mechanisms to change such attitudes. Among the artificial neural-network models that predict how cognitive dissonance might influence a person's attitudes and behavior, are:
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