___1. Our country needs to address the growing number of homeless persons.
___2. It is a good idea to floss your teeth daily.
___3. The right to vote is one of the most valuable rights of American citizens.
___4. Eating a variety of foods each day, including five or more servings of fruits and vegetables, contributes to good health.
Now answer yes or no to these questions:
1. Do you personally do anything to help the homeless (e.g., volunteer at a homeless shelter or donate money)? ____
2. Do you floss your teeth everyday? ____
3. Did you vote in the last election for which you were eligible? ____
4. Do you regularly eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day? ____
Were your attitudes and behaviors in line with each other? If not, how did it make you feel? A little hypocritical, maybe? The negative arousal we feel when we realize that our attitudes or behaviors aren’t consistent with each other is called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance theory is one of the main topics in this assignment.
We’ve been talking so far about how we know ourselves and others primarily using the social cognition approach. In this assignment, we move on to the self-esteem approach. The theories in this chapter deal with ways in which we try to maintain our self-esteem and feel good about ourselves. We sometimes reinterpret our world to make ourselves feel better. Are there things that you do even though you know they are bad for you? How do you deal with thinking of yourself as a smart person and still doing this probably-not-so-smart thing? One way I rationalize eating chocolate (which isn’t so good for you) is by reminding myself that it has calcium in it, and calcium is good for me. I could also react by never eating chocolate, by deciding that chocolate really isn’t bad for me, or by telling myself that cancer will kill me before the chocolate ever does.
Cognitive dissonance theory deals with responses to inconsistencies, such as eating foods we know are bad for us. It was first formulated by Leon Festinger (remember him from social comparison theory in the last assignment?). The theory was later expanded by Elliot Aronson. Cognitive dissonance theory says that whenever we do or learn something that threatens our image of ourselves, we will feel dissonance and be driven to reduce that negative feeling by retaining consistency. Whenever we do something that surprises us, makes us feel stupid, or makes us feel guilty, we’re likely to feel dissonance. We can respond to this inconsistency by changing our attitude, changing our behavior, changing our thoughts about the behavior, or making the inconsistency less important. If I believe in animal rights and someone gives me a fur coat, I may feel dissonance. I could respond by changing my attitudes about animal rights, getting rid of the coat, deciding that the animal is already dead now and I didn’t buy the coat anyway, or deciding that animal rights isn’t that important of an issue to me anymore. In general, we’ll choose whichever of these options is the easiest for us at the time.
Cognitive dissonance theory is one of the most researched theories in social psychology, with applications to lots of different types of behavior. We use cognitive dissonance tactics to justify behaviors that don’t fit with our attitudes (notice some of the applications to sales, condom use, war, and making people like us). We also use it to justify choices that we make. If you have two options of who to marry and you choose one, you’ll feel better about yourself and your choice if you remind yourself of all the good things about the chosen one and the bad things about the rejected one. Dissonance also applies to how we justify our efforts. Social groups that make new members perform humiliating acts (such as some fraternities and military organizations) use cognitive dissonance theory to their advantage, causing their members to become more dedicated to the group. It seems to be automatic—even children and monkeys show cognitive dissonance effects (like devaluing something that we didn’t choose). People in collectivist cultures may show less direct dissonance effects (though they still show them), but they are more likely to show vicarious dissonance—that is, cognitive dissonance aroused by someone else doing something that would make them feel stupid or immoral. People from collectivist countries tend to be more bothered than people from Western countries when they see a friend in a dissonance-arousing situation.
There is also a discounting application to cognitive dissonance theory. We talked about the overjustification effect in the last assignment—how being rewarded for doing something we like can cause our intrinsic motivation for that activity to decrease. Cognitive dissonance theory describes insufficient punishment as an almost opposite motivational application. If we don’t have an external reason for doing something, we may think that we must have done it because we enjoyed it (thus reducing our dissonance). Inducing children to perform activities, such as picking up litter or playing nicely with their brother, with a minimum of reward or punishment can lead them to internalize the activity, enjoying it for its own sake (and requiring less reminders from you to do it).
Attitude has been called social psychology’s most indispensable concept. It was one of the first topics studied by social psychologists and has remained an important and central research area for the discipline. Like schemas, attitudes help us deal with our environment. They also give us a sense of identity
Researchers talk about three components of an attitude—the affective component, the cognitive component, and the behavioral component. The affective component is how you feel about the attitude object or your emotions. The cognitive component is how you think about it, your beliefs about the attitude object, and the behavioral component represents your actions toward the object. Let’s use Tide laundry detergent as an example. The affective component of your attitude toward Tide may be based on the color of the box or on whether your mother used it or not. Your cognitive component would include your beliefs about how good a job it does cleaning. And the behavioral component would be based on whether you buy it or not. These components will not be equally important for every attitude. Some of your attitudes, like maybe your attitude toward snakes or your romantic partner, may be based mostly on affect. Others, such as your attitude toward a Presidential candidate, may be based mostly on cognitive factors. Attitudes also differ in the strength with which they are held. There are many measures of attitude strength, including importance, relevance, certainty, and direct experience. Attitudes are usually measured via self-report, although they can also be measured indirectly in various ways. Some component of many attitudes is genetic. We also get our attitudes from others, from prior experiences, from how they relate to other attitudes we hold, and through exposure (more familiar people and ideas become more attractive, assuming we were slightly positive toward them to start with).
There are many theories of attitude change. We’ve already discussed one way to get people to change their attitudes—through inducing cognitive dissonance.
The Yale Attitude Change approach was one of the first systematic studies of persuasive communications. Building on research done during World War II, social psychologists at Yale University conducted a series of studies on factors that make persuasive communications more or less effective. They based their model on “who says what to whom”, meaning that variables related to the source of the message (who), the message itself (what), and the audience (whom) affect the message’s persuasiveness. The text gives examples of some of the findings for each of these types of variables in Figure 7.2.
Rich Petty and John Cacioppo built on this early work by adding a new variable, the route through which persuasion goes. Their Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) suggests that persuasion may occur through two different routes—the central or the peripheral. Depending on the route, different factors may be more or less important in persuasion. People use the central route when the issue is important to them and they are motivated to think about the message. You may have used the central route when deciding what college to attend. The strength of the arguments is the most important factor in inducing central route attitude change. When people aren’t motivated to think about the message, such as when the issue is not very personally relevant, attitude change occurs through the peripheral route. In the peripheral route, surface characteristics, such as the credibility or attractiveness of the source or the number of arguments, become more important than the strength of the arguments in inducing persuasion.