Leon Festinger is a highly regarded social psychologist who made ripples in the scientific world; he was best known for the cognitive dissonance theory. Festinger was an American scientist who lived from the year 1919-1989; he went on to study at the University of Iowa majoring in modern social psychology under the guidance of a great mind and teacher Kurt Lewin. He revolutionized Social Psychology by conducting lab experiments. The cognitive theory has withstood the tests of time as it is used in educating more students to this present day.
Cognitive dissonance can be defined as a situation that involves conflicting attitudes, beliefs or conduct, which results in an uncomfortable situation that requires a person to adjust their approach to restore emotional balance (Cooper, 2007). The cognitive theory states that human beings have an inner need to ensure emotional balance, reducing negative thoughts and dissonance. Psychologists greatly resonate with the approach, as they view people to have the tendency of evading the bitter truth so as to rationalize an uncomfortable state to a happy state (Festinger, 2007).
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The theory rests on three central pillars. Firstly, it explains humans to be highly sensitive to inconsistencies concerning actions and opinions. According to the theory, all human being recognize occasions when they are acting out of the norm, there is no straight line that one should follow, but there is always that mental compass that directs a person’s morals or beliefs. Whenever a person goes against what they believe in, an emotional alarm goes off highlighting a wrong action or decision; this is what is termed as cognition. The change will cause an adverse effect on someone until they find a balance to the problem (Festinger, 2004).
The second step that follows is dissonance. Since a person has realized what they have done, their emotional state is in disequilibrium as the mind will motivate an individual to find a solution, which will bring about emotional balance. According to the theory, a person is unable to move past this stage once they recognize that they did something that is against their principles. The third stage will require an individual to create a new dissonance that will allow them to view the wrong action as something rational that can happen; hence, creating a platform to move forward past the issue (Festinger, 2004).
In my case, I chose to do a study on cognitive dissonance that can occur based on exercise. Participants of both male and female were selected randomly; half of the group was forced to do the exercise while the other half were requested whether they were willing to participate in working out free from any pressure (Roeckelein, 2008). At the end of the study, the groups had contrasting opinions on the same exercises that they had all taken part. Those who were forced to do the exercises explained to have had an uncomfortable experience that they did not enjoy; those who were free to take part in the workout were more relaxed and enjoyed the experience. I choose to be part of the study on both sides, being forced to exercise and the other I was willing to take part in the training. In the forced workout session, I felt uncomfortable and had little excitement across the duration of the training. During the free session, I was excited and comfortable with what I was doing.
From the experiment, I concluded that cognitive dissonance takes place when an individual is put in a situation they are not willing to be part of and already have a negative perception of the situation since it’s not what they want. To remove the imbalance, I chose to view the process as something I can tolerate. Through changing my perception of the situation, I was able to gain emotional equilibrium and find some sense of satisfaction from the workout. My experience of the study was fascinating as it enlightened me on the extent of work that goes into setting up an experiment, and it was equally satisfying to reach a conclusive results that was in line with the theory.
Completing the exercise was a tasking activity, and convincing people to take part in the training was a challenge on a different level. I wasn’t too surprised by the questions asked by the participants in the research as most of them were curious on how the exercise will provide any conclusive results. The expected outcome was achieved, as I believe in the theory, and the results were accurate in agreement with the outlined principles to the theory. Completing the study provided great satisfaction, which showed the substantial difference in perception a researcher gets when conducting research in a professional setting. The study was in direct relation to putting a person in an uncomfortable situation and studying how they react and adjust to the situation (Tavris and Aronson, 2008).
Cognitive Dissonance theory is an accurate theory that is supported by repetitive studies which show the different emotional thresholds a human can endure. From the theory, greater understanding is acquired on the social psychological network of an individual and society. It is through such work and experiments that the scientific community can further understand the mysteries of the human psyche.
Cooper, J. (2007). Cognitive dissonance: Fifty years of a classic theory . Los Angeles: SAGE.
Festinger, L. (2004). Conflict, decision, and dissonance: [by] Leon Festinger, with the collaboration of Vernon Allen [et al.] . London: Tavistock.
Festinger, L. (2007). A theory of cognitive dissonance . Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press.
Roeckelein, J. E. (2008). Dictionary of theories, laws, and concepts in psychology . Westport, Conn: Greenwood.
Tavris, C., & Aronson, E. (2008). Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts . Orlando, Fla: Harcourt.