Cognitive Dissonance is described as the theory that “assumes that to reduce discomfort, we justify our actions to ourselves” (Myers, 2008). Cognitive dissonance is experienced each time a person makes a decision surrounding his or her thoughts that are conflicting. Our beliefs can especially be persuaded for change when an “after-the-fact” has occurred. When there is nothing a person can do to change the scenario, and they also know that they have done something wrong, cognitive dissonance plays a role in the decision making.
When Joe was driving home from happy hour in the dark (after only two drinks), and drove up over a hill in the road, he had only a moment to think when he attempted to swerve after seeing a flash of silver. He felt a jolt and heard a thud. Immediately he pulled his car over and ran to the side of the road to find a man lying on the pavement still on his bicycle. Joe, panicking, checked the man’s pulse, and in finding one, made the split decision to get in his car and drive away. By the time Joe had gotten home, he had justified in his mind that this was not his fault. The man on the bicycle should not have been riding in the dark, had it been daylight, this would not have happened. He thought to himself, had he stayed and called the police, even though he was not drunk, alcohol might have been smelled on his breath and he could have been charged with drunk driving. This would definitely raise his car insurance rates along with the chance that his license could be revoked, both, which he could not afford! “Why was that idiot riding his bike in the dark???” Joe kept thinking to himself “it was almost like he was asking to be run over!”
Social, Cultural and Spiritual Influences on Joe’s behavior
Social influence happens when one’s action or thoughts become affected by other people. Social influence is seen in conformity, socialization, and peer pressure. Harvard psychologist Herbert Kelman identified three varieties of social influence, compliance, identification, and internalization. Kelman states that compliance occurs when people appear to agree with others, but they keep their difference of opinion to themselves. Identification occurs when people are influenced by a person that he or she respected and like, such as a favorite teacher or famous singer. Internalization is when people belief something from his or her inner self and therefore behave and agree both publicly and privately (Kelman, 1958).
Culture has a specific purpose in social life. Culture and behavior relationship is reciprocal. Behavior becomes define as an individual observes culture in society and began to assimilate its meaning and develop an attitude in response. Cultural knowledge is considered an asset in society. Cultural knowledge can offer social mobility or the lack of can hold one back. A person’s value of his or her cultural knowledge is demonstrated in one’s lifestyle and behavior within groups (Collins, 2009). “Both culture and the members who affect it construct the social world, and the social world is defined by economics, politics, society, and culture” (Griswold, p 16). Joe’s cultural knowledge led him to believe he should leave the scene of an accident because he would be misjudged.
As humans we are aware of when one is acting in variance to what one belief. According to cognitive dissonance theory, we know at a certain level of consciousness, if our behavior does not match our beliefs/attitudes/opinions. There is an alarm within oneself that will sound when one notice such a variance, whether we like it or not. For example, Someone whom beliefs it is wrong to cheat, yet decides to cheat on a test, will notice, and be affected by this variance.
Recognition of this change will cause dissonance, and will move an individual to resolve the dissonance (Psychology World, 2009).
Joe thoughts and actions were influenced by others (what society would think, his family, and friends etc.) when he decided to leave the accident. Because Joe experienced cognitive dissonance he needed to find a way to maintain consistency among his cognitions. He wanted to be in compliance again with societal influence that he experienced through the culture he was raised in and his spiritual beliefs that he held. Joe knew it was not ethical to leave the accident. Joe began to apply self-justification.
Reciprocal relationship between Attitudes and Behaviors
Behavior and attitudes influence each other. Although it is intuitive to conclude that changes in attitudes drive behavior research indicates that the reverse is true, changes to behavior drive changes in attitudes.” Ideally, positive attitudes manifest well-adjusted behaviors. However, in some cases healthy attitudes may result in harmful behavior. For example, someone may remain in an abusive and potentially deadly domestic situation because they hold negative attitudes towards divorce”, as stated by (http://www.findarticles.com).
Joe’s attitude about someone riding his bike in the dark ultimately led him to his behavior that leaving the scene of an accident is perfectly acceptable. He believed if someone is stupid to ride in the dark then he or she deserved to be hit by a car.
A fundamental belief is that if a person’s attitude is shifted in the right direction behavior will follow. An example is that if people think that drinking is detrimental to their health there is the possibility that they will quit. However, with this in mind it can be summed up that the link between behavior and attitude is a weak one.
Cognitive Dissonance theory to rationalize Joe’s behavior
Applying cognitive dissonance can be helpful when dealing with conflict. When a dissonance has been created it can change or activate ones attitude or behavior causing a reaction. For example, a person can be encouraged to learn by creating dissonance between what he or she think he know and what they actually do (my daughter knowing that lying is wrong even thought she did not tell that she had homework when she arrived home from school). In adult cognitive dissonance, points out conflicting thoughts focusing on what people know versus what they do. A change can be motivated through actions or thoughts. Joe’s contradiction between his action of getting in his car and driving away and his justifying thought of the victim riding his bike in the dark so late has forced him to rethink his action.
According to (Barker Phil, 2003), by introducing new information like the humanity of the victim for example, his children, his wife, etc. a new dissonance is created between what Joe is doing and presently knows. In return, there is a response; Joe can act or readjust his thoughts to justify the new information. This can lead to reconcilement via comprehension and changes of actions and thoughts.
When cognitive dissonance occurs one will experience tension and a lack of harmony. This feeling brings about a discrepancy between behavior and attitudes. Cognitive dissonance can bring about insufficient justification and can cause more discomfort, which can lead a person to be more motivated to believe in what he or she has done. “Once made, decisions grow their own self-justifying legs of support. Often, these new legs are strong enough that when one leg is pulled away- perhaps the original one- the decision does not collapse” (Myers, 2008). In this paper one has examined cognitive dissonance from a scenario involving a man name Joe. Joe experienced many of the aforementioned explanations. A situation and behavior has been described, social, cultural, and spiritual influences have been analyzed explaining the individual behavior and ethics. The reciprocal relationship between behavior and attitudes was discussed and an explanation of how the individual could have used cognitive dissonance theory to rationalize his behavior has been given.
- Cognitive Dissonance.Beyondintractability.org, September 2003 by Phil Barker. Retrieved on November 25, 2009 from http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/cognitive_dissonance/
- Collins, S. (2009) How much does culture and lifestyle affect behavior? Retrieved on November 29, 2009 from http://www.helium.com/items/717256-how-much-does-culture-and- lifestyle-affect-behavior
- Ford-Martin, Paula. “Attitude and behavior”. Encyclopedia of Psychology. Retrieved on November 20, 2009 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2699/is_0003/ai_2699000381/
- Griswold, W. (2004). Cultures and Societies in a Changing World. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
- Kelman, H. (1958). Compliance, identification, and internalization: Three processes of attitude Change. Journal of Conflict Resolution, I, 51-60 Retrieved November 30, 2009 from http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Conformity-(psychology)
- Myers. D.G. (2008). Social Psychology, 9th Edition. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
- Psychology World. (2009). Cognitive Dissonance. Retrieved on November 27, 2009 from http://web.mst.edu/~psyworld/cpgnitive_dissonance.htm
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