Running Head: Cognitive Dissonance Analysis Cognitive Dissonance Analysis: Stepping Out of Assigned Roles Randi Cutler Lehigh University Abstract Research conducted by Leon Festinger and James M. Carlsmith has shown promise for the effects of cognitive dissonance on personal belief, and the adjustment of those beliefs to match publicly supported, yet contradictory arguments. We are testing to see whether the cognitive dissonance theory can be overcome by explicitly telling participants to step out of the role that they were assigned to.
Participants included fifteen female and five male Lehigh undergraduates who watched a video clip about the relevance of aquatic theory, and were then told to evaluate that theory from an assenting or dissenting viewpoint to which they were assigned. Following their review, participants were asked to abandon their assigned roles, and complete a survey that would measure their personal agreement with the speaker in the video clip.
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Our findings were not significant enough to definitively say whether beliefs were altered as a result of assigned roles, and the detachment from them, but the average assessment of agreement score showed a slight difference in our predicted direction, that beliefs would be changed as a result of dissonance. Cognitive Dissonance Analysis: Stepping Out of Assigned Roles Human belief is thought to play a major role in deciding course of action. What if actions, however, proved to play a role in forming human belief?
Recent studies conducted by Festinger and Carlsmith assign merit to the cognitive dissonance theory, a theory that explores the disconnect between actions and beliefs and lends itself to the possibility of altering those beliefs based on existing societal pressure to conform. Plainly put, cognitive dissonance is the presence of behaviors that are inconsistent with beliefs and that cause psychological discomfort. In an effort to prove the Cognitive Dissonance Theory, researchers decided to experiment with incentive.
Participants were pressured and bribed to take on assigned roles as promoters of the experiment, despite their true feelings of boredom and disinterest in it, and some ended up believing in the new perspective. The cognitive dissonance theory arose as an explanation for the changes in some of the participant’s beliefs about the experiment. This result was seen more prevalently when participants were given less money (one dollar) and not really noticed when participants were given more money (twenty dollars).
It seems that one dollar is not enough initiative to justify the false promotion of a boring experiment, so cognitive dissonance is experienced. Taken directly from Festinger and Carlsmith’s study, “One way in which the dissonance can be reduced is a person to change his private opinion so as to bring it into correspondence with what he has said. ” (Leon Festinger and James M. Carlsmith 204) The change in belief that the participants experienced is synonymous with this idea.
Those who received 20 dollars, got enough money to justify lying to another participant about their own experience, and thus, dissonance was experienced to a lesser degree. The external incentive seems to detract from any internal conflict, because a substantial amount of money is enough justification for internal dissonance. It is understandable that our study would be looking into the effects of cognitive dissonance because participants were told to support opposing viewpoints from their own. Despite the fact that Cognitive dissonance theory has been supported for quite some time, our study aims to challenge its validity.
In their study, Festinger and Carlsmith had their participants fill out evaluation forms after their participation, but they never explained that the participants could abandon their assigned role. This lapse in communication, or at the very least clarification, compromises the integrity and the establishment of the cognitive dissonance theory, because participants didn’t know that they had the option to express their true beliefs on the matter. On the contrary, our study proves to be clearer in distinguishing when it is no longer necessary to continue supporting an assigned role.
Participants in the class experiment were shown a video clip about the controversial aquatic theory. Afterwards, divided equally into 2 groups by the first letter of their last names, participants were asked to put their personal views aside and make an argument either for or against the ideas presented in the clip. Following that writeup, students were asked to abandon their assigned roles and fill out a survey using their own personal beliefs on the theory. The purpose of our study is to determine whether the cognitive dissonance theory can be overcome by explicitly telling participants to step out of the role that they were assigned to.
We predict that the participants’ original beliefs will be affected and altered by the condition that they were randomly assigned to, and that more students will favor their assigned role in the final survey. Our main focus is on the true cause for the participants’ changes in belief, the need for cognitive equilibrium, and on notion that the participants in by Festinger and Carlsmith’s study may still have been acting. Method Participants Participants included twenty Lehigh University undergraduates, all between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. Five of the twenty were male, and fifteen of the twenty were female.
All of the participants were involved in the study as a part of a psychology 210, Research Methods assignment. Design The study required a Random Groups Design, also known as a Between-Subjects Design to evaluate if telling participants more clearly if they would like them to abandon their random assignment. The independent variables are the two groups that participants in class were split up into. The first group was the assenting group and the second was the dissenting group. These factors were manipulated by having participants write a assenting or dissenting response paper about the clip on Aquatic theory.
We looked at whether being in either group had an impact on agreement with the speaker. The dependent variable is the effect of either group on cognitive dissonance. It was calculated by averaging the responses of individual agreement with the speaker. Materials Materials included the video from TED, the assignment sheet with a) whether each participant was assenting or dissenting, b) what questions to answer once assigned to a condition, c) a survey using a 5-pt Likert scale ranging from 0(not at all) to 4 (extremely) removing participants from assigned roles, and including only their real thoughts and feels, and d) assignment heet 2 with bulleted outline for this write up. Procedure Participants watched the clip from TED, “Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes. ” Afterwards participants were assigned to an assenting or a dissenting condition based on randomly separating by first letter in last name, and asked to answer questions from the point of view of their assigned role. Afterwards, participants were asked to abandon assigned position and answer a survey honestly based on their personal stance on the matter. Participants were given a week to complete the questions and the survey.
After handing in the completed assignments, the degree of agreement with speaker was measured and analyzed. Results The agreement score was calculated by measuring the agreement with the speaker. The 3 survey questions were designed originally to be able to make this type of calculation. The agreement scores range from 0 (Not at all) to 4 (Extremely) like the Likehart scale on the survey. The dissenting group has a mean agreement score of M=1. 77, and the assenting group had a mean agreement score of 1. 90.
The standard error of the sample distribution, 0. 27, shows that over 50%, or the bulk of the data collected for our experiment falls within the parameters of 0. 27 plus/ minus the mean for each condition in the sample. The t(crit) value or the value compared to the calculated t value was 2. 10, which means that if our calculated t value is higher than 2. 10, we can reject the null hypothesis that no change in belief occurred as a result of and resolution for cognitive dissonance. When we calculated our t value, we got 0. 5.
This value, since it is smaller than the t(crit), is not significant enough to enable the rejection of the null hypothesis. Using a 95% confidence interval, the range of credible values of statistical data for our study falls between -0. 70 and 0. 43. Anything outside of this range is not credible statistical data for our study. In any case, the data we collected was not significant enough to determine whether participant’s beliefs were altered by a need to adjust our thoughts to match our actions. Discussion Our results for this experiment were not significant enough to support our ypothesis that participants’ original beliefs will be affected and altered by the condition to which they were randomly assigned. Not specifying whether or not to abandon the assigned role was a definite limitation of Festinger and Carlsmith’s study because the participants in our study definitely did not experience the cognitive dissonance effect. This is not to say that we falsified the results of their study, it simply means that our study brings light to a possible confounding variable: those who were responding to the evaluations, from the viewpoint of their assigned role instead of their own personal belief.
Our results however were not conclusive enough to determine whether being explicitly told to express one’s personal beliefs alone weakens their argument. There was a slight disparity in the average agreement score for both the assenting and dissenting group in the general direction that we predicted, but basing our decision solely on the results we currently have, there is not enough to say that participants beliefs were altered. The fact that our study failed to produce significant results could be do to a few factors.
The first is that we did not use a baseline survey. It may have been more effective for participants to have taken a preliminary survey after first watching the movie to express their initial reaction and underlying belief of aquatic theory before being assigned to either a assenting or dissenting condition. This way, when calculating agreement score, the participants’ original beliefs on the topic could have been considered as well. This would allow for individual change in belief over time to be carefully considered.
Additionally, having an understanding of participants’ viewpoints from the beginning would shed light on how strong or weak the affects of cognitive dissonance was on the participants’ beliefs. Another possible reason that our results lacked significance could have been our lack of a control group. When a group is not being manipulated by the independent variable, in our case, the stance the participants were told to take on aquatic theory, researchers can get a better understanding of any changes in belief.
This could have led to another calculation of the comparison of both the assenting and dissenting groups’ average agreement score with that of the control group that did not have to take any other stance but their own. We saw an example of this control group in Festinger and Carlsmith’s studies and having that control group proved useful to them for comparisons against the one dollar and twenty dollar conditions because they had baseline results to compare their findings to.
The nature of our study also calls into question the significance of the study and of the results for those participants who were assigned to a role that supported their personal beliefs. Would the results have differed at all if all of the students were assigned to a condition opposite from their original opinion? A third reason that our data did not provide significant results could have been the sample population that was used for this assignment. Not only was it a small sample size, only 20 students, but those students didn’t have any invested interest in or inclination towards aquatic theory.
Had the sample size been larger, there would have been more beliefs to asses change in. Additionally, had our class been a class on evolution or Darwinism, there would have been more interest in the topic at hand, and more of a deep-rooted opinion to tamper with. I think it would have been interesting to see how a Darwinist participant was affected, if at all by cognitive dissonance in this case. Overall, our findings showed that the experiment we conducted was not substantial enough to come to any conclusive decision on the presence of cognitive dissonance.
Further and more extensive testing would be needed to affectively determine whether primarily, a change in belief could be altered by recognition and support of an opposing viewpoint, and secondarily, whether being told to evaluate the experience by stepping out of that role sheds any light on the overall existence of cognitive dissonance. References Leon Festinger and James M. Carlsmith, . “Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance. ” Stanford University (1957): 203-210. Web. 18 Nov 1957.