In the following situations, which person exhibits the most cognitive dissonance?
a) A man who never went to college is happy when his son is admitted to college
b) A woman happily breaks her diet to eat chocolate
c) A student who publicly advocates for academic honesty is ashamed that they cannot pass their classes without cheating
d) A customer tells a worker that she will give a good review but gives the company a horrible review instead.
C is correct. Cognitive dissonance occurs when an individual holds two or more conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that result in psychological stress/discomfort. The student’s attitude toward academic honesty and their behavior are in conflict. This leads to shame because individuals desire psychological consistency between their expectations of life and reality. Therefore, the student is experiencing cognitive dissonance. Answer choice A is incorrect because the man’s attitude and behavior about going to college seem consistent. However, we are not told how the man feels about college, so more information is needed to determine if the man is experiencing cognitive dissonance. Answer choice B is incorrect because although the women’s goal and behavior conflict, no mention of internal conflict/stress is noted in the women happily breaking her diet to eat chocolate. Answer choice D is incorrect because we are not told if the customer’s words were genuine. She could have lied to the worker. More information is needed to determine if she is truly experiencing cognitive dissonance.
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In general, individuals desire for their beliefs and actions to be consistent with each other. When an individual holds two or more conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors, this results in a psychological discomfort that we call cognitive dissonance. For example, consider an individual who is trying to lose weight but also consistently eating a caloric surplus of ice cream. The individual will likely understand that these two things are at odds with one another, and enter a state of cognitive dissonance. How could the individual restore harmony? Cognitive dissonance theory lays out multiple options:
The individual can alter their behavior to be consistent with their cognitions. The individual wants to lose weight, and so to be consistent with that goal the individual could reduce their consumption of ice cream.
The individual can alter their attitudes or beliefs to produce consistency. The individual’s current belief is that eating ice cream will impair their weight loss goal. However, they might be able to reframe this belief to “eating too much ice cream will impair my weight loss goal.” While not entirely changing their belief, reducing the intensity of this belief will reduce some dissonance.
The individual can add a new attitude or belief. They might say something like, “I learned about a new study which proved that eating high sugar foods lowers bodyweight.” By accepting this new information, eating ice cream would no longer create dissonance with their goal of weight loss.
Finally, the individual can ignore or refute information that conflicts with their existing attitude, behavior, or belief. The individual could think, “I don’t believe that eating ice cream will make me gain weight.” By denying or ignoring facts that conflict with their worldview, they are able to minimize cognitive dissonance.
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