Impression Management: Festinger's Study of Cognitive Dissonance, Post-Decision Dissonance & Counterattitudinal Advocacy

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  • 0:09 Cognitive Dissonance
  • 1:27 Post-Decision Dissonance
  • 2:44 Counter-Attitudinal Advocacy
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When people feel discomfort because their beliefs and behaviors aren't in sync with each other, it is called cognitive dissonance. In this lesson, we'll look closer at cognitive dissonance and two related phenomena: post-decision dissonance and counter-attitudinal advocacy.

Cognitive Dissonance

There's a famous story by Aesop about a hungry fox that sees a bunch of grapes that look juicy and ripe. The grapes are hanging high above the fox's head, so he jumps as high as he can to try to get to them. When he can't reach them, though, he exclaims, 'Oh, you don't look ripe, anyway! I don't need any sour grapes!'

Why would the fox suddenly not want something that he wanted a moment before? Psychologists explain the fox's behavior in terms of cognitive dissonance, which is when people feel discomfort in the face of evidence against their normally positive self-concept. This sometimes happens when people's beliefs and actions don't line up.

In the case of the fox, he wanted the grapes when he thought he could get them. But once he realized that he couldn't jump high enough to get the grapes, he felt upset about the fact that he wasn't a good enough jumper to reach them. As a result, he changes his mind about how good the grapes are, and thus, he gives himself a reason not to get them and doesn't have to admit that he can't jump high enough.

When we experience cognitive dissonance, we will do one of two things to make ourselves feel better: we will justify our actions or we will change our beliefs.

Post-Decision Dissonance

Have you ever made a major purchase and then wondered if you made the right decision? Post-decision dissonance occurs when we experience dissonance after a major decision, such as a big purchase.

One famous study on post-decision dissonance was conducted by Jack Brehm in 1956. He asked people to rate household appliances. After they had rated the appliances, he told them that they could have one of the appliances as a gift. He asked them to choose one of two appliances that they rated equally. After they chose which appliance they wanted as a gift, he had them rate the appliances again. This time, they rated the one they chose as being better than the one they didn't choose.

People are most likely to experience post-decision dissonance if their decision is irrevocable. That is, after you've made a decision, if you can't change your mind, you are more likely to experience post-decision dissonance and, as a result, are more likely to change your beliefs. One study done at a racetrack found that people who had already placed their bets were more likely to believe that their horses would win than people who had not yet placed their bets.

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