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New perspectives on cognitive dissonance theory
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3408-8349
2020 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Cognitive consistency is generally considered a fundamental aspect of the human mind, and cognitive dissonance theory is the most famous and studies theory within this framework. Dissonance theory holds that when related cognitions are in conflict (e.g. when behaving counter to one’s attitudes), people will experience negative affect. This affective reaction motivates people to engage in various dissonance-reduction strategies (e.g. attitude change). The aim of this thesis was to investigate some novel, and unanswered questions within dissonance research, and to relate dissonance theory to neighboring theories.

In Study I, it was predicted (and supported) that cognitive dissonance (writing a counter-attitudinal essay in the induced-compliance paradigm) would lead to people exhibiting an abstract mindset. The rationale for this prediction (based on action-identification theory) was that unfamiliar and difficult situations, were action is usually impeded (much like dissonant situations), lead to individuals adopting more concrete representations of the situation – for the sake action execution. However, since people usually want to find meaning in their actions, they will quickly, after the action is executed, adopt an abstract representation of the situation – which might also lead to spillover effects were people’s mental representation of their actions in general become more abstract.

In Study II, the aim was to investigate to what extent, and how, emotions relate to the attitude-change effect in the induced-compliance paradigm. Past researchers usually predict that negative emotions should be positively related to this effect. Based on the notion of emotion regulation, however, attitude change (a form of reappraisal) implies that people are positively (and less negatively) tuned to the situation – and should therefore feel more positive (and less negative) emotions towards the situation. Thus, contrary to past research, it was predicted that negative emotions would be inversely related to attitude change, and positive emotions would be positively related to attitude change. Result across two experiments supported these predictions.

Lastly, in Study III, the aim was to provide a general theoretical model of dissonance reduction. Based on a cognitive-emotion perspective (including appraisal theories of emotion, emotion regulation, and coping), it was suggested that reduction processes are influenced by the intensity of the initial affective reaction. This affective reaction is in turn influenced by the magnitude of the dissonance and the novelty-familiarity dimension of the situation. When the dissonance magnitude is too big, and the situation novel, people might disengage rather quickly (leaving the situation or distracting themselves). If, however, people have enough motivation and cognitive capacity, they might engage more in the reduction processes. The advantage of this model is that it can be applied to any dissonant situation.

Taken together, these studies suggest that there is still much to discover in dissonance research, and much can be gained by conceptualizing dissonance processes within a cognitive-emotion framework. Future research should focus more on how the social context (e.g. influence of other people) might affect these dissonance processes. More emphasis should also be put on the prevalence of different dissonant situations, and the accompanied reduction attempts, in real-life settings.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Psychology, Stockholm University , 2020. , p. 67
Keywords [en]
Cognitive dissonance theory, Attitude change, Dissonance reduction, Emotion regulation, Mental representations
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-179559ISBN: 978-91-7911-062-8 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7911-063-5 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-179559DiVA, id: diva2:1411016
Public defence
2020-04-17, David Magnussonsalen (U31), Frescati Hagväg 8, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2020-03-25 Created: 2020-03-02 Last updated: 2020-03-30Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Dissonance and abstraction: Cognitive conflict leads to higher level of construal
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Dissonance and abstraction: Cognitive conflict leads to higher level of construal
2018 (English)In: European Journal of Social Psychology, ISSN 0046-2772, E-ISSN 1099-0992, Vol. 48, no 1, p. 100-107Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study investigated the effects of cognitive conflict on abstract thinking. According to action-identification theory, an ambiguous and unfamiliar situation might propel an individual to a more abstract mindset. Based on this premise, cognitive conflict was hypothesized to put people in an abstract mindset. The induced compliance paradigm, in which participants are asked to write a counter-attitudinal essay under either low choice (producing little dissonance) or high choice (producing more dissonance), was employed. Results showed that an abstract mindset was in fact activated in the induced compliance paradigm, and this effect was more pronounced for participants having a more concrete mindset to begin with. The results suggest that the experience of cognitive conflict is closely related to increased abstraction.

Keywords
dissonance, abstraction, cognitive conflict, induced compliance, action-identification theory
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-153790 (URN)10.1002/ejsp.2287 (DOI)000424168000018 ()
Available from: 2018-03-15 Created: 2018-03-15 Last updated: 2020-03-02Bibliographically approved
2. Dissonance reduction as emotion regulation: Attitude change is related to positive emotions in the induced compliance paradigm
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Dissonance reduction as emotion regulation: Attitude change is related to positive emotions in the induced compliance paradigm
2018 (English)In: PLoS ONE, E-ISSN 1932-6203, Vol. 13, no 12, article id e0209012Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The aim of this study was to clarify how positive and negative emotions are related to the common attitude-change effect in cognitive dissonance research. Drawing on appraisal theories of emotion, and emotion-regulation research, we predicted that negative emotions would be inversely related to attitude change, whereas positive emotions would be positively related to attitude change in the induced compliance paradigm. In two studies, participants (N = 44; N = 106) wrote a counter-attitudinal essay under the perception of high choice, and were later asked to state their emotions in relation to writing this essay, as well as to state their attitude. Results confirmed the predictions, even when controlling for baseline emotions. These findings untangled a previously unresolved issue in dissonance research, which in turn shows how important emotion theories are for the understanding of cognitive dissonance processes.

National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-163535 (URN)10.1371/journal.pone.0209012 (DOI)000453451000063 ()30557326 (PubMedID)
Available from: 2019-01-08 Created: 2019-01-08 Last updated: 2020-03-03Bibliographically approved

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