Episode 63: Cognitive Dissonance, the Monty Hall Problem and a Possible Resolution?

MichaelBiopsychology, History of Psychology, Research and Stats, Social Psychology4 Comments

Cognitive Dissonance – one of the most established and respected theories in psychology – is under attack. An economist – M. Keith Chen – uses what is called the “Monty Hall problem” to show that the research on cognitive dissonance may be seriously flawed. In this episode I explain Chen’s concerns about the research on and then I propose that a new study which uses neurofeedback to study cognitive dissonance may come to the rescue at just the right moment. Join me to find out how.

Here is the table from M. Keith Chen’s article, “Rationalization and Cognitive Dissonance: Do Choices Affect or Reflect Preferences?” that shows why, once a Monkey has chosen one letter over another (in this case letter A – which could be a red M&M – over letter B, the blue M&M), letter C is likely to be chosen.
Table from M. Keith Chen\'s article \"Rationalization and Cognitive Dissonance:  Do Choices Affect or Reflect Preferences? \"

Resources on Cognitive Dissonance

  • The original article on Cognitive Dissonance which used the “free choice paradigm” was Brehm, J. W. (1956) Postdecision changes in the desirability of alternatives, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 52, 384-9
  • The article Monty Hall Meets Cognitive Dissonance By John Tierney appeared in the Science section of the NYT on April 7, 2008.
  • Go Ahead, Rationalize. Monkeys Do It, Too.
  • And Behind Door No. 1, a Fatal Flaw – article appeared in the NYT on April 8, 2008
  • Behind Monty Hall’s Doors: Puzzle, Debate and Answer?
  • The online version of the game of the “Three Door” or “Monty Hall” problem can be found here.

  • The research article I discussed in which subjects went through the free choice approach and then underwent biofeedback to reduce activity in the left frontal cortext is called,
    • Left Frontal Cortical Activation and Spreading of Alternatives: Tests of the Action-Based Model of Dissonance by Eddie Harmon-Jones and Cindy Harmon-Jones (Texas A&M University), Meghan Fearn, Jonathan D. Sigelman, and Peter Johnson (University of Wisconsin–Madison). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008, Vol. 94, No. 1, 1–15

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4 Comments on “Episode 63: Cognitive Dissonance, the Monty Hall Problem and a Possible Resolution?”

  1. Thanks Louisa. I went to your site and downloaded the paper. I’ll definitely read it and see if this episode needs to be updated. Thanks! Michael

  2. Hi,

    I’m the lead author on the original monkey M&M cognitive dissonance work. We have a new paper that’s just been published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that demonstrates choice-based attitude change even in the case of blind choices, that is, even when preferences can’t play a role. This refutes Keith’s argument that previous results are due to pre-existing preferences.

    You can find the paper on my website, here:

    Or in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.


  3. Thanks so much. Appreciate it. This episode required a bit of work digging through the articles and making sure I understood
    the problem correctly.


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