Organizational or personal set ups often require instances of decision making. Whether made at personal or corporate levels, individuals are faced with instances of making decisions under competitive options.
This condition always presents discomfort in emotions. The uncomfortable emotion that is experienced as a result of having conflicting ideas is called cognitive dissonance. This paper seeks to discuss cognitive dissonance. The paper will look into the theory of cognitive dissonance as well as reactions and concepts that are characteristic of the condition.
Cognitive dissonance is a philosophical theory that was developed by Leon Festinger at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century. Cognitive dissonance is based on mental discordance of something happening contrary to the way it is supposed to happen. Leon Festinger established through observation that though inconsistencies were common occurrences in life, they made people to have some sense of discomfort that drove them to correct the inconsistencies.
The strength of the drive for corrective measures was also established to be proportional to the extent of inconsistency that was experienced by an individual. Thus, it can be argued that cognitive dissonance establishes the fact that people are not well receptive to inconsistencies, especially when such are aligned to the negative side (Cooper 5).
Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Leon Festinger who was active in the field of philosophy established and published the cognitive dissonance theory in the year 1957. His theory seemed to be simple and almost non substantial from the outset and was almost disregarded from its presentation. In the theory, Leon just expressed the fact that “people preferred consistency to inconsistency” (Cooper 6).
The term cognition means knowledge that brings the notion of the theory to a mental capacity. This is particularly experienced when an individual is faced with conflicting interests. The state of dissonance can also be caused by an experience that is contrary to a person’s expectations, beliefs or even thoughts (Cooper 6).
Development of the Theory
The concept of cognitive dissonance gained much of its development following the establishment of Leon’s theory of cognitive dissonance. The theory that did not seem to be so distinct at the onset attracted reactions which initiated studies on the concept of cognitive dissonance.
Scholars who were driven by desires to disapprove the theory embarked on a move to gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and that increased the understanding of the concept of the theory thus made a rich contribution to the concept of cognitive dissonance.
There were also those scholars who undertook to study the concept on the basis of gaining knowledge. Consequently, the result was a culmination into a wider spread and acceptance of the Leon’s cognitive dissonance theory. Individuals such as Irvin Janis and Milton were known for the opposing the cognitive dissonance theory. The criticisms presented by those who opposed the theory, however, came with proposals of contrary thoughts and presentations that further contributed to the wealth of the aspects of cognitive dissonance concepts.
The ideology of cognitive dissonance has been an establishment that was fuelled by the theory formulated by Leon Festinger. The reactions that Leon’s theory enlisted established a basis for further developments that were realized in the philosophical school of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance has since then become a wide topic in psychology (Cooper 28).
Concept of Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance has been recognized as a key element in the manner in which people behave. Studies have shown that people put in a lot of effort to help in the reduction or control of cognitive dissonance. The level of inconsistency in an individual’s thoughts is also identified to be related to personality factors. The degree of self dependence of individuals, for instance, relates to the possibility of encountering such inconsistencies as well as the manner in which an individual handles dissonance.
People who are characterized by a high level of self independence are, for instance, less likely to encounter dissonance as compared to individuals who are dependent on other people and factors. This is because self independence or self reliance controls external forces that might influence or dictate an individual into cognitive dissonance.
Interdependency on the contrary exposes people to a lot of factors and forces that in most cases drives people to conflicts. The conflict may be with respect to two aspects: some two or more factors may pose a conflicting situation to an individual or an issue may be in conflict with an individual’s ideologies.
A person can be faced with two external factors that are completely opposite in terms of their ideological applications. Under such a circumstance, an individual will be in conflict over the handling of the conflicting issue; which one to be resolved and which one to be compromised. A conflict similarly arises when a circumstance poses a conflicting ideology to an individual’s personality. In this case, an individual is forced to be in a situation that he or she believes is contrary to his or her established character (Kim 72).
The response to cognitive dissonance is also influenced, to a great extent, by personality with respect to self dependence. Though individuals who are open to their environment are more susceptible to cognitive conflicts, their exposure to the environment gives them an advantage of approach to dealing with such conflicts. This group can therefore easily deal with arising conflicts to eliminate disturbances.
Self concealed individuals are on the contrary less exposed to cognitive dissonance and at the same time weak in handling such issues when they arise. The trend developed by individuals who are not very independent on their environment, in adjusting to their environmental needs as well as solving collective problems around them plays an important role in shaping reactions to cognitive dissonance. Events of dissonance yield attempts by individuals to rise and overcome the posed conflict.
Whether in cases of independent individuals or cases that involve individuals with extensive attachments to their environments, the capacity to resolve cognitive dissonance depends on a number of other factors. Factors such as “needs, desires and goals” and the drive to achieve these factors forms some of the basis of response to cognitive dissonance (Kim 73).
When faced with a cognitive dissonance, individuals are forced into attitudes that are contrary to their normal behavior. The circumstance causing the dissonance establishes an imbalance between an individual’s immediate emotions and the inner behavior. A response that is the solution to the conflict is then the attempt to realign an individual’s feelings to the inner being.
There are a variety of approaches that individuals employ in their attempts to make resolutions. Consolation has been one of the approaches that individuals use as a means to reconcile themselves with dissenting emotions. An individual who, for instance, receives a benefit out of circumstance leading to the dissonance would, for example, have his or her consolation on the benefits.
An individual who does not gain from an event that leads to the particular dissonance can on the other hand resort to change of emotions as a resolution to their discrepancy between their attitude and their behavior.
A case consideration of involvement in criminal activity such as robbery can illustrate the case. An individual who ventures in a robbery exercise and succeeds in stealing a lot of money may not be at ease after the incident but will have the consolation of the money obtained from such activity. A failure to undertake the robbery may leave the same individual with no option other than running away from thoughts of the act as a consolation. This is particularly the case when the individual is somehow remorseful over the activity.
Generally, the move to resolve dissonance involves making sure that the discrepancies between behavior and attitude are reduced or even completely eliminated. There are four basic ways of handling inconsistencies. The first approach is for an individual to change their attitude so as to align it with behavior.
Under this approach, the individual can be said to regret the circumstance that led to the inconsistency and is principled to personality. The inconsistency is thus accepted and attitudes transformed from the dissonance into the person’s normal behavior. The approach is more of preservative to an individual’s behavior (Nevid 288).
Alternatively, an individual can resort to transforming his or her behavior in order to match that of the induced attitude. In this approach, the individual can be seen as being inclined to the cause of the dissonance.
The transformation of an individual’s behavior towards an induced attitude can be due to a number of reasons: the first reason that can explain this approach is emotional weakness that cannot allow the individual to withstand a transformation. Extreme level of such weakness may lead to loss of self control with the individual being controlled by emotions.
A person will then yield to the causes of dissonance with the solution of incorporating such circumstances into his/her life and character. In the case example of a robber above, an individual will under this approach change his or her behavior to accepting the crime. This approach has the effect of transforming a person to new actions towards environmental circumstances.
Another approach involves an individual’s provision of reasons for the difference between behavior and attitude. Once a convincing explanation is arrived at, there will be an induced perception of solution to the conflict. The reason may be consolations to bring the behavior in terms with the attitude while the cause of the conflict is left untouched.
The approach can then be seen as an attempted incorporation of the first two approaches while the event leading to the dissonance remains untouched. It is therefore more of a cover up to the cognitive conflict than a solution.
The last approach is a dismissive one of assuming that the conflict does not exist. The individual in conflict will under this approach maintain the status quo of exposure to the source of conflict while at the same time continues to suffer from the effects of such conflicts.
A case example of cognitive dissonance in a person who smokes will therefore entail the admission to dangers of smoking which can lead to an individual stopping smoking so as to align his/her behavior with the conviction, change the attitude that smoking is not dangerous and maintain the behavior of smoking, dismiss the conflict on the perception that smoking is not the only source of danger thereby holding to both behavior and attitude or just dismiss any thoughts of the dangers of smoking and continue with the practice.
Jeffrey explained that the most important concept of cognitive dissonance was the justification of the effort that was associated with the event in conflict. Jeffrey argued that the level of value attributed to an event was normally associated with the level of effort that was put into the event.
Extensive efforts that are employed by an individual to solve cognitive dissonance with respect to aligning behavior and attitudes may then offer them a higher value in the society more than that of offering explanations to sources of the cognitive conflicts or just totally ignoring the conflict (Nevid 288).
Vicarious Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance can also be induced in an individual by actions of other parties. When a person in a society witnesses another member undergoing cognitive dissonance, a reaction may be induced in the observer such that emotions are stirred up in the observer as if he/she (the observer) was the one undergoing the observed action.
The concept of vicarious dissonance rises from the fact that no individual can be completely independent in any given set up. For each and every individual person, there exists an attachment to the society which as a result leads to social influence.
The influence could either be directed from the individual to the society or from the society to the individual. An induced concept in a society will, for example, call for varied response by members of such a society. Researches carried out on social groups extensively revealed that a level of dissonance that was exhibited by an individual in a community had a high chance of causing dissonance in other members of the same group.
Such studies are historically established; the first of such studies was carried out in the first half off the twentieth century and was on a religious group that believed that the world was to end (Forgas, Cooper and Crano 127).
Vicarious cognitive dissonance is also significantly explained by the concept of social identity. Forgas and his co authors established the fact that social identity “depersonalized self conception and transformed one’s own perception, beliefs, attitudes, feelings and behaviors” (Forgas, Cooper and Crano 127).
Social identity makes it possible for an individual to experience cognitive dissonance without necessarily being exposed to the causative agents. Social identity also has the potential to transform an individual through assimilation of the individual. A person possessing particular traits can be naturally assimilated when the individual is exposed to particular practices in the society. Such assimilative moves can drive an individual to transformations that are a result of cognitive dissonance that never affected the individual.
Influence of a society on its individual members to adopt a variation in character is another direct concept of vicarious cognitive dissonance. Apart from having the freedom to transform into practices of a tolerant society, there are instances where an individual is forced to transform his or her attitude to be in line with those that are required by the society. Under all these cases, an individual is forced into a transformation that is not a result of a personal act leading to cognitive dissonance (Forgas, Cooper and Crano 128).
It was established that vicarious cognitive dissonance was induced in ways that were quiet different from what caused direct dissonance. While direct dissonance was attributed to personal encounters, vicarious cognitive dissonance was based on an individual’s emotions with respect to another person. The perception that a victim suffers from cognitive dissonance plays a significant role in shaping people’s behavior or attitudes.
Researches have revealed that vicarious cognitive dissonance was primarily based on empathy rather than fear. People are not influenced by experiences of others on the basis of dangers or negative experiences but on emotional attachment to the experience involved. Even though negative impacts of events affect the degree of vicarious dissonance, it does so through influencing empathy (Forgas and Williams 337).
Studies have been carried out to understand human behavior. One such behavior has been discussed in this article in lengthy. It has been shown that human beings naturally tend to avoid uncomfortable situations such as conflicting situations whereby there is a need for one decision to be made.
Cognitive dissonance is an occurrence of conflict of interest in an individual’s thoughts. The dissonance is induced by an occurrence to or about an individual that is characterized with compromise of character. Responses to dissonance can have the effect of resolving the conflict through a variety of transformational measures. Cognitive dissonance can also be acquired vicariously.
Cooper, Joel. Cognitive dissonance: fifty years of a classic theory. London, UK: SAGE, 2007. Print.
Forgas, Joseph and Williams, Kipling. The psychology of attitudes and attitude change. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Forgas, Joseph., Cooper, Joel and Crano, William. The Social Self: Cognitive, Interpersonal and Intergroup Perspectives. New York, NY: Psychology Press, 2003. Print.
Kim, Min. Non-western perspectives on human communication: implications for theory and practice. London, UK: SAGE, 2002. Print.
Nevid, Jeffrey. Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.