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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

"Cognitive Dissonance" by Joel Cooper

"We do not like inconsistency. It upsets us and it drives us to action to reduce our inconsistency. The greater the inconsistency we face, the more agitated we will be and the more motivated we will be to reduce it." (p 2)

This book contains a fifty year review of the evidence suggesting that 'Cognitive Dissonance' (first proposed by Leon Festinger in his book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance) leads to attitude change. When we do something that doesn't fit in with our belief about who we are (and we tend to believe that we are "good, competent, and moral people" - p 96), we change our beliefs towards conformity with our actions.

This leads to some quite counter-intuitive outcomes: 
  • If we suffer for something, we are more likely to see it as desirable. 
  • If we expect to fail and actually fail we tend to repeat the action that has confirmed our view of ourselves rather than trying something different. However, if we expect to fail and actually succeed we tend to change what we do next time, even though that will make the likelihood of failure greater. (pp 25 - 26)

We are very good at avoiding dissonance by denying responsibility. Dissonance does not seem to occur unless we had the freedom to choose the action that lead to the discrepant cognitions, and it does not occur unless the consequences were (a) bad and (b) foreseeably bad. (p 73) When  people are publicly committed dissonance is worse and attitudes change fastest (so if a politician publicly endorses a policy, their attitudes about the policy become more firmly entrenched). 

This book was a very readable account of some of the research on this topic but I was disappointed that the scope was quite narrow. Does not cognitive dissonance occur when a student discovers that their previous ways of explaining the world do not work? This book focusses almost entirely on social psychology. Is not learning the way we adjust our cognitions to avoid cognitive dissonance? This book says very little about HOW attitudes get changed. And what does cognitive dissonance feel like? This book skims over this, using only the description 'discomfort'. 

June 2016, 183 pages




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