Cognitive Dissonance

24.03.2015 |

Episode #8 of the course “Brilliant Social Psychology Experiments”

Cognitive dissonance is a much-discussed theory for students taking psychology. The theory states that people being equipped with the ability to guard against psychological conflict is dependent upon how they organized pieces of information in their beliefs and ethics systems.

In 1959, psychologist Leon Festinger conducted a study asking participants to complete mundane tasks. These included actions such as turning pegs in a wooden knob over time. Participants were compensated $1 or $20 to inform the next participant (a researcher) about how interesting the task was. Participants paid $1 to lie said the tasks was more enjoyable than participants paid $20.

But why did this happen?

The researchers suggest that the highly-paid participants felt that the $20 payment was reasonable compensation for performing the task. However, participants only paid one dollar did not find it reasonable, but they found a way to reconcile how they had spent their time by saying that the activity was pleasing. Specifically, low-paid participants needed to reconcile their behavior and morals. This action suggests that humans may fabricate the truth in an attempt to make the best of a difficult or illogical situation and maintain harmony.

Similarly, in 1963, researchers Aronson and Carlsmith investigated children’s self-justification actions. For this study, children were placed alone with a number of toys, including a desirable toy steam-shovel. Researchers left the room and told half of the children not to play with that toy or they would receive a harsh reprimand. The other half would receive a lighter reprimand. None of the children touched the toy. The children were later told they could play with all toys. However, children who believed they would get mild punishment played with the toy less than others. Researchers claimed that the children under harsher punishment had more justification to play with the toy.


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