Persuasion header image
The Nature of Attitudes and Persuasion

The Yale Approach

Congruity Theory

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Social Judgment/ Involvement Theory

Information Integration Theory

Theory of Reasoned Action

Elaboration Likelihood Model


Cognitive Dissonance Theory

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


Induced Compliance
Another area of dissonance concerns what happens when we engage in behavior that is inconsistent with our attitudes or beliefs. If I do not like someone but agree to do a favor for that person, the potential for cognitive dissonance exists: I do not like Fred; I agreed to give him a ride to a job interview. A very early classic study was conducted by
Festinger and Carlsmith (1959). They asked a subject to perform a very boring and repetitive task, pretending that the researchers were studying that task. Actually, they wanted to know whether attitudes would change when subjects experienced dissonance. After performing the boring task (turning spools on pegs; removing spools from pegs and then putting them back), subjects were asked to help the experimenter to convince another subject to participate in the study they just completed. Some of these subjects were given $1 to convince the next subject (who was really a confederate helping the experimenter) to agree to work at the task; others were given $20 to talk the other “subject” into participating. Basically, they were asked to lie and say the task was interesting or fun when they really believed it was boring. Afterwards, they were supposed to report how interesting they thought the task was.

When the subjects tried to convince the “next subject” that the task was exciting and fun, dissonance was likely to occur: I believe the task I just did was boring; I told someone else that task was exciting and fun. Because they were paid different amounts of money for their behavior, they were predicted to, and did, resolve the dissonance in different ways. The subjects who were paid $20 could easily rationalize their action: “I didn’t say the task was exciting because I really believed it was fun; I said it was exciting because I was paid $20.”  The subjects who were paid only $1 couldn’t rationalize their behavior that way: “I didn’t lie and say it was fun for $1; I did it because the task really was fun,” changing their attitude. In other words, the greater the justification ($20 payment) for their counter-attitudinal behavior, the easier that behavior was to rationalize. When the behavior couldn’t be rationalized by the justification (payment of only $1), the subjects were more likely to change their attitudes toward the task. So, the key principle of induced compliance is that the less justification provided for performing the counter-attitudinal behavior, the more attitude change.

If you are doing a favor someone a favor, like driving them to a job interview when you really don’t want to, you could experience dissonance and might change your attitudes. If there was a really good reason (justification) for doing the favor -- say he is your boss -- it is easy to rationalize your behavior: “I don’t like Fred; I’m only doing him a favor because he’s my boss.”  If there isn’t a good reason for doing the favor, you might experience dissonance and then like Fred more than before you did the favor: “There’s no reason why I have to give him a ride; maybe I like Fred better than I thought.”  On the other hand, if you can get someone who doesn’t like you to do you a favor -- without providing a strong justification -- they might like you a little more.

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