Dissonance and consonance are relations among cognitions that is, among opinions, beliefs, knowledge of the environment, and knowledge of one's own actions and feelings. Two opinions, or beliefs, or items of knowledge are dissonant with each other if they do not fit together; that is, if they are inconsistent, or if, considering only the particular two items, one does not follow from the other (Festinger 1956: 25).
- One may try to change one or more of the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance;
- One may try to acquire new information or beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced; or,
- One may try to forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are in a dissonant relationship (Festinger 1956: 25-26).
became elated. She said she'd just received a telepathic message from the Guardians saying that her group of believers had spread so much light with their unflagging faith that God had spared the world from the cataclysm (Levine 2003: 206).
Some years ago I participated in a test of applied kinesiology at Dr. Wallace Sampson's medical office in Mountain View, California. A team of chiropractors came to demonstrate the procedure. Several physician observers and the chiropractors had agreed that chiropractors would first be free to illustrate applied kinesiology in whatever manner they chose. Afterward, we would try some double-blind tests of their claims.
The chiropractors presented as their major example a demonstration they believed showed that the human body could respond to the difference between glucose (a "bad" sugar) and fructose (a "good" sugar). The differential sensitivity was a truism among "alternative healers," though there was no scientific warrant for it. The chiropractors had volunteers lie on their backs and raise one arm vertically. They then would put a drop of glucose (in a solution of water) on the volunteer's tongue. The chiropractor then tried to push the volunteer's upraised arm down to a horizontal position while the volunteer tried to resist. In almost every case, the volunteer could not resist. The chiropractors stated the volunteer's body recognized glucose as a "bad" sugar. After the volunteer's mouth was rinsed out and a drop of fructose was placed on the tongue, the volunteer, in just about every test, resisted movement to the horizontal position. The body had recognized fructose as a "good" sugar.
After lunch a nurse brought us a large number of test tubes, each one coded with a secret number so that we could not tell from the tubes which contained fructose and which contained glucose. The nurse then left the room so that no one in the room during the subsequent testing would consciously know which tubes contained glucose and which fructose. The arm tests were repeated, but this time they were double-blind -- neither the volunteer, the chiropractors, nor the onlookers was aware of whether the solution being applied to the volunteer's tongue was glucose or fructose. As in the morning session, sometimes the volunteers were able to resist and other times they were not. We recorded the code number of the solution on each trial. Then the nurse returned with the key to the code. When we determined which trials involved glucose and which involved fructose, there was no connection between ability to resist and whether the volunteer was given the "good" or the "bad" sugar.
When these results were announced, the head chiropractor turned to me and said, "You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore. It never works!" At first I thought he was joking. It turned it out he was quite serious. Since he "knew" that applied kinesiology works, and the best scientific method shows that it does not work, then -- in his mind -- there must be something wrong with the scientific method. (Hyman 1999)
Festinger and Carlsmith claimed to have found evidence for cognitive dissonance in their 1959 study Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance. Their database consisted of data collected on 71 male students in the introductory psychology course at Stanford University who were "required to spend a certain number of hours as subjects (Ss) in experiments." (The data for 60 of the students was used in the final calculations, 20 subjects in each of three groups. In other words, this was a very small study from which no grand conclusions should have been drawn.) They spent an hour doing some boring, tedious task like turning pegs a quarter turn repeatedly. It was assumed that doing something pointless for an hour would generate a strong negative attitude regarding the task. Unless you have special neural wiring, it seems reasonable to assume that you would be bored by the task, but whether you would develop a strong negative attitude toward it seems questionable. After all, you are in a psych class, you're trying to learn something, and participation in an experiment is a course requirement. Anyway, after completing the boring task for an hour some of the subjects were asked to talk to someone introduced as another subject in the experiment but actually an actor, and try to persuade him that the task was interesting and engaging. Some subjects were paid $20; some were paid $1. (Today, you might get 4 pints of beers for $20; in 1959 you could probably get 100 pints of beer for $20. In other words, to most college students in 1959, $20 would have represented a small windfall. Consider, however, that these are Stanford students in 1959, many of whom may not have found much difference between $1 and $20.) One group of subjects was used as a control; these subjects weren't asked to talk to anybody about the task.
At the end of the study, the subjects were asked to rate "how enjoyable" the boring tasks were on a scale of -5 to +5. The average rating for the 20 students in the control group was -.45; the average for those paid $20 was -.05; and the average for those paid $1 was +1.35.
This was explained by Festinger and Carlsmith as evidence for cognitive dissonance. The researchers theorized that people experienced dissonance between the conflicting cognitions, "I told someone that the task was interesting" but "I actually found it boring." When paid only $1, students were forced to internalize the attitude they were induced to express, because they had no other justification. Those in the $20 condition, however, had an obvious external justification for their behavior, and thus experienced less dissonance.*The difference in results might also have been a fluke. The eleven students whose data was not included were rejected for a variety of reasons, but none of them was rejected because he was an outlier. With a small group of only 20 students being averaged, a couple of outliers would skew the average. I'm not saying that is what happened in the $1 group, but just a couple of high ratings could account for the higher average than the other two groups. On the other hand, the difference in ratings might be due to something besides cognitive dissonance. Maybe it was due to psychic influence from a paranormal lab across the country. Unlikely, sure, but the authors are just assuming the different ratings can be explained by what they were trying to establish. I don't know why the $1 group rated the boring task as significantly more enjoyable than the other two groups, but I'm not convinced it had anything to do with cognitive dissonance.
Consider also that when the subjects were asked how much they learned on a scale of 0-10, the groups rated themselves about equally at about 3. If the $1 group had rated their learning at 5, would that have been taken as evidence of cognitive dissonance? The stat I find the most interesting, however, is the one regarding whether the subjects would participate in a similar experiment in the future. None of the groups was very enthusiastic about doing so, but the $1 group was significantly more willing to do so that the other two groups. On a scale of -5 to +5, the $1 group averaged +1.2, while the control and $20 groups averaged -0.62 and -.025 respectively. Again, an outlier or two in the $1 group might be the main reason for the difference in averages. Or there might be some other reason. With such a small sample, it would seem reasonable to suspect that there might be some other difference between the $1 group and the others that has nothing to do with cognitive dissonance. In any case, even if this study were redone with the same results using 600 subjects, I would still question whether the differences should be explained by cognitive dissonance. Paying people a little bit of money to do a trivial task and then lie about it to someone else might not require any justification in the context of a psychology experiment at Stanford University. After all, it's just an experiment. Paying people a lot of money may have created less incentive by making the task less enjoyable. A token payment may have created the illusion that the subjects were making an important contribution to science.