Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Haslam I 53
Cognitive Dissonance/psychological theories: The research on dissonance theory in the decades following the two seminal studies produced a number of important conclusions, some consistent with the theory and some less so. In the original work, Festinger (1957)(1) (>Cognitive dissonance/Festinger) had surmised that the key motivational factor that caused inconsistency to lead to attitude change was an aversive drive-like state that he labelled dissonance.
At the time, he had no evidence for this assumption but it was the key factor that drove the predictions of the two classic studies discussed above, as well as many others. We now know that his guess was correct. We know this because
(a) we can measure physiological changes (e.g., in skin conductance (SCR) and brain activity (EEG)) and the psychological discomfort that follow from advocating a position contrary to one’s attitudes (Croyle and Cooper, 1983(2); Elliot and Devine, 1994(3); Harmon-Jones, 1999(4); Losch and Cacioppo, 1990(5));
(b) we can increase dissonance by having participants ingest an arousing drug and decrease it with a sedative (Cooper et al., 1978)(6); and
(c) we can eliminate attitude change following attitude–discrepant behaviour by having people misattribute their arousal to something other than their discrepant behaviour. For example, if people believed they were aroused from the side effects of a pill they had ingested rather than their discrepant behaviour, then attitude change did not occur (Zanna and Cooper, 1974)(7).
Haslam I 54
VsFestinger: Linder and colleagues (1967)(8) showed that Festinger and Carlsmith’s (1959)(9) (>Experiment/Festinger) induced compliance results only occur if people believe they had the choice to agree to make their counterattitudinal speech. In addition, Cooper and Worchel (1970)(10) showed that making a counterattitudinal statement did not produce dissonance unless it led to some consequential event.
Dissonance/Cooper/Fazio: Why should dissonance only occur under certain conditions? The original theory was silent about the impact of such variables as choice and consequences. The persistent set of limiting conditions suggested a need for a fresh perspective on the theory and that is what Russell Fazio and I provided in 1984. In our New Look model of dissonance (Cooper and Fazio, 1984)(11), we argued that dissonance was not brought about by cognitive discrepancies per se. Rather, we argued that dissonance is a state of uncomfortable arousal that occurs when a person accepts responsibility for bringing about an unwanted consequence.
Other scholars took note of the limiting conditions of dissonance and suggested alternative views of the impact of attitude–discrepant behaviour (e.g., Beauvois and Joule, 1999(12); Harmon-Jones, 1999(4)). Aronson (1992)(13) argued for the key motivating role of the self, suggesting that dissonance occurs primarily when one’s self-esteem has been threatened by inconsistent cognitions.
Stone and Cooper (2001)(14) modified the earlier New Look model and adopted a self-standards model. They realized that the New Look had been silent about how a person decides whether an action has brought about an aversive consequence.



1. Festinger, L. (1957) A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
2. Croyle, R. and Cooper, J. (1983) ‘Dissonance arousal: Physiological evidence’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45: 782–91.
3. Elliot, A. J., & Devine, P. G. (1994). On the motivational nature of cognitive dissonance: Dissonance as psychological discomfort. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(3), 382-394
4. Harmon-Jones, E. (1999) ‘Toward an understanding of the motivation underlying dissonance effects: Is the production of aversive consequences necessary?’, in E. Harmon-Jones and J. Mills (eds), Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 71–103.
5. Losch, M.E. and Cacioppo, J.T. (1990) ‘Cognitive dissonance may enhance sympathetic tonus, but attitudes are changed to reduce negative affect rather than arousal’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 26: 289–304.
6. Cooper, J., Zanna, M.P. and Taves, P.A. (1978) ‘Arousal as a necessary condition for attitude change following induced compliance’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36: 1101–6.
7. Zanna, M.P. and Cooper, J. (1974) ‘Dissonance and the pill: An attribution approach to studying the arousal properties of dissonance’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29: 703–9.
8. Linder, D.E., Cooper, J. and Jones, E.E. (1967) ‘Decision freedom as a determinant of the role of incentive magnitude in attitude change’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6: 245–54.
9. Festinger, L. and Carlsmith, J.M. (1959) ‘Cognitive consequences of forced compliance’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58: 203–10.
10. Cooper, J. and Worchel, S. (1970) ‘The role of undesired consequences in the arousal of cognitive dissonance’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16: 312–20.
11. Cooper, J. and Fazio, R.H. (1984) ‘A new look at dissonance theory’, in L. Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 17. Orlando, FL: Academic Press. pp. 229–64.
12. Beauvois, J. and Joule, R.V. (1999) ‘A radical point of view on dissonance theory’, in E. Harmon-Jones and J. Mills (eds), Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 43–70.
13 Aronson, E. (1992) ‘The return of the repressed: Dissonance theory makes a comeback’, Psychological Inquiry, 3: 303–11.
14. Stone, J. and Cooper, J. (2001) ‘A self-standards model of cognitive dissonance’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37: 228–43.


Joel Cooper, “Cognitive Dissonance. Revisiting Festinger’s End of the World study”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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