Dissonance is an uncomfortable motivational experience that comes when a person’s cognitive behaviors become inconsistent with each other. For a resolution, dissonance reduction requires a shift in the attitudes, beliefs or values to disregard the inconsistency. Thus, an individual will have to choose one option and leave the other. The reduction of the inconsistency makes someone change the preferences and desire. The person would then create more connection with the chosen object and heightened the disconnection with the rejected choice. This paper would be discussing the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. The paper will draw more information by comparing the studies conducted, and then conduct an application of this phenomenon on the reduction of the use of plastic bags in the supermarket.
CDT theory was developed in (Festinger, 1962). The theory suggested that people hold two or more conflicting cognitions. The contradiction causes an unpleasant feeling to an individual, and this continues until they resolve by changing the cognition to attain the balance (Festinger, 1962). After the development of this theory by Festinger, other tests followed which settled on the same stand after undergoing a moment of this conflict and choosing between one of the choices, people who settle on the weaker incentive alter their attitudes and behaviors to suit the favored choice (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959). Later all these thoughts have been compiled in (Aronson, 1992) which is a recapture of earlier work of Festinger, and it paints a clear picture of an understanding of human behaviors and thoughts.
The early studies on CDT informed the future studies in areas of social psychology causing more researchers to undertake studies on people’s behaviors in different areas of development. For instance, the work of (Wang, 2018) analyzed how cognitive dissonance changes the political environment. Other researchers have focused on the application of the theory in the society. Examples of these are (Lashley, 2009) who invoked CDT to provide an understanding on ways in which political strategists use propaganda and changes to effectively swift voters decisions.
In his recapture on the work of Festinger, Aronson states that CDT provides a powerful vehicle when challenging other theories such as the reinforcement theory (Aronson, 1992). Among the explanations given by Aronson is that CDT discovers the limitations on other theories such as the reinforcement theory’s suggestion that rewarding individuals for saying something would cause them to become obsessed with their statements (Aronson, 1992). Instead, Arson explains that people are more inclined to believing their lies when they receive an under-reward for telling such lies (Aronson, 1992). A justification of this statement is further provided when Aronson states that people are more likely to remain in a group that they receive harsh or severe initiation that those groups that are free to join (Aronson, 1992). In support, (Chen & Risen, 2010) explains that even in writing, individuals who freely opt to write counter-attitudinal essays later come into an agreement with its position than the ones who are compelled to write the essays. In the rationale of environmental conservations, the models developed within this theory such as the commitment and hypocrisy paradigm have been seen to castigate the use of plastic bags.
The work of (Harmon-Jones, Harmon-Jones, & Levy, 2015) takes an action-based model to explain the CDT. The authors start by saying that most of the situations that create dissonance are the results of difficult decisions which require a commitment to actions. Once a person chooses one action, the focus on acting to it, and labor to translate that intended behavior or attitude into something actionable created the dissonance reduction (Harmon-Jones et al., 2015). The approach creates a relationship with the selected choice and a distance with the rejected choice. With this, the change in attitude enables a person to follow and alter the behavior and attitude.
In support of TCD, many researchers have come up in the past to test this theory some of them developing on the scenarios provided in (Festinger, 1962). For instance, on the scenario of children and their preference for toys, the work of (Egan, Bloom, & Santos, 2010) develops on this confirming that monkeys and children were retaining the candy or toys they had chosen in the first attempt when they were tested for a second round. In the test, the authors gave monkeys an illusion of option between two comparable objects. and then they allowed them to choose between the one which was rejected in the first attempt with a third object, and they would still devalue the rejected one. The behavior was also the same when children were tested with toys. The results were a confirmation that choices induce preference.
An experimental study conducted in (Chatzisarantis, Hagger, & Wang, 2008) sought to examine cognitive dissonance-related changes in the attitude of people within the domain of exercise. The results of this study showed that participants who freely engaged in boring exercises techniques ended up liking them than those who were forced to take them. A study conducted by neurologists has also shown that physiological changes become consistent with the people’s stronger commitments to the choices after making them (Sharot, De Martino, & Dolan, 2009). These results were identified from a test where people’s estimations of pleasure expected from a future event, and their imaging data were compared both before the event and after the event.
On the other hand, there are still some researchers who think that when the chosen actions contradict someone’s preference, the person would quit or avoid the actions. These beliefs are based on the rational choice theory. In (Dietrich & List, 2013), the authors argue that depending on a person’s preferences, traditional approaches have always held that preferences are the ones which dictate actions, but not the vice versa. There are also other authors such as (Perlovsky, 2013) who think that cognitive dissonance is a challenge to human evolution. Perlovsky argues that since TCD resolves cognitive dissonance by disposing of contradictions, this causes the rejection of even the useful knowledge. Another study conducted in (Metzger, Hartsell, & Flanagin, 2015) found that selective exposure studies have evidence that news consumers are more likely to look for information that is attitude consistent while trying to avoid the information that is attitude-challenging. The authors analyzed the credibility on online news and tried to explain it using cognitive dissonance theory. The results of this study were contrary to the theory as it showed that most consumers believed that the news that was attitude-consistent was credible than the one which was attitude-challenging.
Cognitive dissonance and Reduction of Plastic Bags in Supermarkets.
Campaigns targeted towards environmental awareness focus on promoting a desirable behavior and a reduction of the undesired ones (Willuweit, 2009). On its part, cognitive dissonance has been employed in different areas to promote a change of a behavior, which works through cognitive dissonance reduction (Davey, 2011, p. 206). According to (McGuire, 2015) cognitive dissonance reduction functions without someone’s awareness, and it is fundamental to someone to an extent of being called a psychological immune system. When cognitive dissonance takes a longer process, the distortion becomes internalized as intensely held belief, attitude, or values, which then shapes someone’s judgments and behaviors. When this process occurs, the dissonance transforms into a proactive behavior. As being proactive is connected with maladaptive environmental behaviors, the individual would be prevented from perceiving destructive behaviors as good. For instance, the study of (Kellstedt, Zahran, & Vedlitz, 2008) found that actively giving someone negative information on global warming would cause concerns to an individual, and he/she would be likely to choose positive behaviors that prevent it. Again, the work of (Osbaldiston & Schott, 2012) found that environmental interventions targeting cognitive dissonance which focusing on pro-environmental behaviors yield positive results in changing the participants’ behavior thus recognizing cognitive dissonance a mediating element on how individuals can engage into pro-environmental positive behaviors.
Similarly, the role of environmental campaigns against the use of plastic bags should typically be focused on explicating detrimental environmental consequences after prolonged use of Plastic bags.
The work of (Rubens, Gosling, Bonaiuto, Brisbois, & Moch, 2015) stated that both commitment and hypocrisy paradigm are two models that are applied when convincing people to take pro-environmental behavior such as preventing the use of plastic bags in the supermarket. The reason why commitment is powerful in behavioral change is that it operates through freedom on the statement. That is, the individual would declare in their will that they would commit to stopping the behavior (i.e to stop using the plastic bags) (Vaidis & Gosling, 2011). Once the person declares such statement, the person creates a connection with the need to stop the behavior thus becoming resistant to the negative urges which facilitates cognition determination (Aronson, 1992). Once this determination is created, (i.e the determination to stop using plastic bags), reduction starts to take place and the person’s attitude changes to concur with the rightful behavior.
On hypocrisy paradigm, the model is based on the Dissonance Theory, where Aronson explains that a person whose actions are the opposite of what he preaches will have hypocritical feelings or dissonance (Aronson, 1992). Since the hypocritical feelings would be unpleasant thus undermining that person’s self-concept, that person will be likely motivated to alter his/her behaviors to match what he/she preaches, as it is the only way of reducing the negative feelings (Aronson, 1992). Applying this to the scenario of plastic bags, asking the participants to willingly talk against the use of plastic bags will make them practice what they are preaching. If they continue to use plastic bags yet they are advocating for their cessation, they would have the hypocrisy feeling which would only end when the also cease using plastic bags. In addition, the work of (Fointiat, 2008) states that when people advocating against a certain behavior do it in public, the advocacy gains a normative dimension which also makes the behavior more salient.
In (Rubens et al., 2015), the study tested the two models discussed above (commitment and hypocrisy paradigm) in an intervention aimed at convincing individuals in the Parisian supermarket to stop using plastic bags. The people were requested to commit themselves by appending their signatures to a poster which was advocating against the use of plastic bags (commitment). Others were reminded of a transgression they had made which meant to arouse their cognitive dissonance or the hypocrisy feeling. The participants were then observed to see whether they were going to take the plastic bags given by the supermarket. On analysis, the people in the commitment condition showed higher chances of changing their behavior than those who were on the control group and those in hypocrisy group.
The main of this paper was to analyze the theory of cognitive dissonance. The paper looked into the various rationales provided on its use and then went forward to test it on an environmental behavior such as the use of plastic bags. This study demonstrates that the use of cognitive dissonance can be one of the approaches that institutions can adapt to change people’s behavior. The approach can fit particularly in environment conservation to encourage people to stop using plastic bags or adopt other means of conserving the environment. As everything has its limitations, cognitive dissonance has its limitations, therefore is good that people or organization using should analyze whether the rejected behavior has any benefit to the society. That is, cognitive dissonance should be used with the aim of preventing a behavior that has a detrimental effect to the society, instead of preventing a behavior which would have been beneficial.
Aronson, E. (1992). The return of the repressed: Dissonance theory makes a comeback. Psychological Inquiry, 3(4), 303–311.
Chatzisarantis, N. L., Hagger, M. S., & Wang, J. C. (2008). An experimental test of cognitive dissonance theory in the domain of physical exercise. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20(1), 97–115.
Chen, M. K., & Risen, J. L. (2010). How choice affects and reflects preferences: revisiting the free-choice paradigm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(4), 573.
Davey, G. (2011). Applied Psychology. John Wiley & Sons.
Dietrich, F., & List, C. (2013). Where do preferences come from? International Journal of Game Theory, 42(3), 613–637.
Egan, L. C., Bloom, P., & Santos, L. R. (2010). Choice-induced preferences in the absence of choice: Evidence from a blind two choice paradigm with young children and capuchin monkeys. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(1), 204–207.
Festinger, L. (1962). Cognitive dissonance. Scientific American, 207(4), 93–107. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamerican1062-93
Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58(2), 203.
Fointiat, V. (2008). Being together in a situation of induced hypocrisy. Current Research in Social Psychology, 13(12), 145–153.
Harmon-Jones, E., Harmon-Jones, C., & Levy, N. (2015). An action-based model of cognitive-dissonance processes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(3), 184–189.
Kellstedt, P. M., Zahran, S., & Vedlitz, A. (2008). Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes Toward Global Warming and Climate Change in the United States. Risk Analysis, 28(1), 113–126. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2008.01010.x
Lashley, M. (2009). The Politics of Cognitive Dissonance: Spin, the Media, and Race (and Ethnicity) in the 2008 US Presidential Election. American Review of Canadian Studies, 39(4), 364–377. https://doi.org/10.1080/02722010903319087
McGuire, N. M. (2015). Environmental Education and Behavioral Change: An Identity-Based Environmental Education Model. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 10(5), 695–715.
Metzger, M. J., Hartsell, E. H., & Flanagin, A. J. (2015). Cognitive dissonance or credibility? A comparison of two theoretical explanations for selective exposure to partisan news. Communication Research, 0093650215613136.
Osbaldiston, R., & Schott, J. P. (2012). Environmental Sustainability and Behavioral Science: Meta-Analysis of Proenvironmental Behavior Experiments. Environment and Behavior, 44(2), 257–299. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916511402673
Perlovsky, L. (2013). A challenge to human evolution—cognitive dissonance. Frontiers in Psychology, 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00179
Rubens, L., Gosling, P., Bonaiuto, M., Brisbois, X., & Moch, A. (2015). Being a Hypocrite or Committed While I Am Shopping? A Comparison of the Impact of Two Interventions on Environmentally Friendly Behavior. Environment and Behavior, 47(1), 3–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916513482838
Sharot, T., De Martino, B., & Dolan, R. J. (2009). How choice reveals and shapes expected hedonic outcome. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(12), 3760–3765.
Vaidis, D., & Gosling, P. (2011). Is commitment necessary for the arousal of informational dissonance?, Abstract. Revue Internationale de Psychologie Sociale, Tome 24(2), 33–63.
Wang, C.-C. (2018). Cognitive Dissonance and Changes in External Political Efficacy: A Panel Study of Chinese Students Studying in Taiwan. Pacific Focus, 33(1), 34–57. https://doi.org/10.1111/pafo.12110
Willuweit, L. (2009). Promoting Pro-Environmental Behavior: An Investigation of the cross-cultural environmental behavior patterns. The Case of Abu Dhabi.