Why do human beings make the decisions that they do, and what triggers a person to take action at any given point? These questions can be answered by evaluating the Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Leon Festinger developed this theory in order to explain why people attempt to reduce dissonance and try to maintain constant relationships. A dissonant relationship exists between elements that are in disequilibria with one another. Cognitive dissonance can occur intrapersonally as well as between two or more people. With individual cognitive dissonance the individual longs for consistency within his or her own mind.
Second, there exist dissonance between two or more people. This occurs when two people have differing opinions about a particular issue. According to this theory individuals will make decisions that will promote consistency in their cognitions. Thus, individuals employ several different coping strategies to deal with dissonance.
Every person experiences some type of dissonance almost everyday. My experience to dissonance for this paper will examine the different reactions that my friend had to my different opinions concerning smoking.
I have attempted to persuade my friends to stop smoking. While attempting the momentous task I observed Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance at work. For example, I told one of my friends that I was concerned about how much they had been smoking recently. He quickly told me that, “my grandfather smoked for nearly all his life and he is in good health.” In this particular instance we can see the basic premise of the consistency theories at work. The guy who said this statement likes me and is my friend. He also enjoys smoking. When I made the statement that I was concerned with the levels of tobacco consumption he disregarded my opinion by using past experiences as evidence to back his point. He is a friend so I assume he somewhat values my opinion, but he upgraded his opinion of smoking and downgrade my opinion. He reduced his dissonance and thus was in balance. This is where Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance attempts to rationalize his behavior.
Another example of observable cognitive dissonance occurred a few days later, when we were watching television. An anti-smoking commercial came on that revealed the dangers of smoking. My friend changed the channel before the commercial had time to get its message across to the viewer. Since the information being displayed did not fit into his beliefs or cognitions about smoking he kept himself from being exposed to it. This is an example of a way of coping with dissonance called selective exposure. The Cognitive Dissonance Theory predicts that people will avoid information that increases dissonance, and seek out information that matches their beliefs.
The Cognitive Dissonance Theory is a part of our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. When we are presented with viewpoints or opinions that differ from our own we often feel dissonance. We, as human beings, are always striving to keep our live in balance. Often a balance in our psyche requires that we not heed the warnings of things to come. As I have shown, cognitive dissonance is utilized to avoid taking action. As many theorist have stated cognitive dissonance does create an internal conflict that causes someone to take action. In the case of smokers, I must regrettably say that smoking is rarely avoided, even with dissonance in full effect. The Cognitive Dissonance Theory explains many of the actions and decisions made by individuals. Since people do not like having dissonance in their lives this theory explains how it is reduced by behavioral and attitudinal changes. Thus, this theory continues to be an explanation of communication behaviors.
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