Description of Theory
The term dissonance refers to when one cognitive element is inconsistent with another cognitive element according to the lecture notes of Professor Soreno. Cognitive elements can be categorized in four groups called beliefs, attitudes, values, and perceptions of behavior. Beliefs can be defined as a perception that something exists or not. This perception can range from a central or peripheral type of belief. The more central a belief is, the harder it is to change that belief. An attitude describes the positive or negative feelings we have toward people, things, or ideas. Values are beliefs that are so important to a person, that they practically guide a person’s life. There are two types of values, instrumental and terminal. Perceptions of behavior simply refer to the interpretation of actions by another. For example, when someone waves at a person, in America, it is often perceived as a friendly gesture. When two of these cognitive elements are incongruent, it leads to dissonance, which can very in intensity. People often experience dissonance on a daily basis, but because it is so minute, it is not bothersome. The Cognitive Dissonance theory deals with these small occurrences, but for the sake of understanding, extreme examples help to explain the theory in better detail.
According to Festinger, all of the cognitive elements held the same value in producing cognitive dissonance, but some scholars have challenged his theory. In the book, The Handbook of Motivation Science, the authors claim that attitude cognitive element holds a heavier value over the other elements by saying it can change the behavior of a person. They quote, “In experimental tests of the theory, knowledge about recent behavior is usually assumed to be the cognition most resistant to change. If one has recently performed a behavior, it is usually difficult to convince oneself that the behavior did not occur. Thus attitude change is often consistent with the behavioral commitment and may justify it” (Harmon-Jones, 2008). In other words, they are illustrating how in order to reduce cognitive dissonance, one needs to change their behaviors, and the cognitive element that relates most to behavioral change is attitude. Throughout the rest of the book, the authors discuss experiments and tests used to revise the theory and look at the theory through other methods.
For the theory to be accepted though, the assumption that dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable must be agreed upon. Another assumption is that people prefer consonance to dissonance. People are pleased when there are no conflicts between their cognitive elements, because it creates harmony within the person. From here, Festinger proposed the major theoretic proposition of the theory that the higher the dissonance, the higher the drive to reduce it. The problem with any assumption is that the criterion has to be filled in order for the theory to work. If there is a person who does not feel...