Social Psychology

Episode 8: Cognitive Dissonance Theory: Why Contradictions Bother Us So Much

Ever since Leon Festinger gave us the term cognitive dissonance, we’ve been asking questions about contradictions in human behavior. For example, can you be pro choice and against the death penalty, or vice versa? That’s the question we examine this week on The Psych Files.

Quote of the week

Here on page 407 of The Story of Psychology is a quote from a report called When Prophecy Fails, published in 1956:

Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief and that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.


Watch a very interesting video about global warming and how it is causing a lot of people some cognitive dissonance. The video (about 3 min long) asks this question: can say that we want to “save the planet” and support other Earth Day type initiatives while at the same time feeling that we are entitled to drive any vehicle we want, or consume any and all goods we want?



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    March 20, 2007

    One may argue that while pro life defenders consider an embryo as life, the proposition of the pro choice camp is that there is a fundamental difference between a legal abortion term fetus and an adult individual.

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    Michelle Grffin

    March 20, 2007

    I wanted to make the point that Festinger study in 1957 paid participants $1 or $20, and the conversion for that today is $7.92 and $158.83. I personally would still have some discomfort over approx 8 dollars, but over about 160 dollars I would certainly think the task was worth my time!

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    March 20, 2007

    Toby: thanks for the comment and the kind words about the podcast. Yes – cognitive dissonance has also been applied to personal relationships. Sometimes referred to as “escalation of commitment” it’s the sense that we can’t back out of something (or someone) that we have spent so much time, money and effort investing in. Good to hear you had the strength to do what was right for you.

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    March 20, 2007

    Great episode, the quote of the week especially rings true with a very painful personal experience I had. While this did not apply to a cult it did involve a very difficult personal relationship where I really could not see the wood for the trees and that really was because of the amount I perceived I had invested and despite massive, even unanimous, evidence contrary to my belief, I still believed. That took a lot to overcome. Thank you for the excellent podcast, only just started listening but will be following it avidly!!

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