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The Nature of Attitudes and Persuasion

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Cognitive Dissonance Theory

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Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Cognitive Dissonance Theory - Overview
Dissonance After Decision-Making
Selective Exposure To Information
Induced Compliance
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Dissonance Theory

Glossary
References
Self-test

Dissonance After Decision-Making
Life is full of choices. Should I go to college?  If so, where should I go to college?  What major shall I choose?  Should I join a fraternity or sorority, and, if so, which one?  Should I study for tomorrow’s test or go to a movie tonight?  Who should I ask to the dance on Friday?  Do I want to buy a paperback?  If so, should it be a new book by Stephen King (or by someone else)?  Rarely do we face a situation in which one option is without a doubt the only reasonable choice. Most choices have both pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, benefits as well as costs. Once we make a choice, however, we accept the disadvantages of that option and give up the advantages of other, unchosen, options. Realization of these consequences leads to dissonance that arises after we make a decision: I chose option A, which has drawbacks; I rejected Option B, which had its own benefits. Thus, post-decisional dissonance is a form of regret, a worry that perhaps we didn’t make the best choice.

Cognitive Dissonance theory predicts that the dissonance will be related to (1) the net desirability of the chosen and unchosen options and (2) the importance of the decision (
Festinger, 1964). Specifically, the closer the choices are in their attractiveness (if the unchosen option is almost as good as the chosen option), the more the dissonance. If two Universities look equally attractive (good reputation, affordable, etc.), choosing to attend one instead of the other should create dissonance. On the other hand, if the College we picked is clearly better than the one we rejected, we should experience little dissonance. If the choice is between staying home and watching a boring television show and going out to hear a concert featuring a great band, there will be little dissonance from the decision to attend the concert.

Second, the more important the decision, the more dissonance we should experience. Important decisions usually have more serious consequences than trivial decisions. This means we should experience more dissonance after an important decision, like which college to attend, than after a minor decision, like deciding whether to stay home or go to a concert tonight.

There are four ways to reduce the dissonance that comes from making a decision: revoke the decision, increase the attractiveness of the chosen alternative, decrease the attractiveness of the unchosen option, or reduce the importance of the decision. One common way to reduce the dissonance is do both the second and third options: make the chosen alternative look better and the unchosen option look worse (
White & Gerard, 1981): “I am so glad I decided to attend this College; it is even better than I thought it would be” and “I’m really glad I didn’t go to school there, it’s not a very good college.”  This is called the “spreading effect,” because after the dissonance and the attitude change occur, the two alternatives appear further apart (less similar) than before. If the chosen alternate looks much better than the unchosen alternative, there should be little dissonance.

In the automobile industry, some customers who order new cars that are not in stock change their minds between the time they order a new car and the time it is delivered to them. This is an example of how post-decisional dissonance (regret) can change attitudes.
Donnelly and Ivancevish (1980) found that when buyers were given information that is consistent (consonant) with their decision (reasons why the decision to buy that car was a good choice), fewer customers backed out of their purchase decision.

Thus, making a decision can cause dissonance, especially if the chosen and unchosen alternates have similar net benefits and if the decision is important. Dissonance can be reduced by revoking the decision, dwelling on the benefits of the chosen alternative, stressing the drawbacks of the unchosen option (frequently people do both of the last two possibilities), or reducing the importance of the decision. It is possible to influence a decision by providing consonant (or dissonant) information.


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