Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a situation in which attitudes, behaviours and beliefs that are conflicting are involved. The result of this is a discomfort feeling which leads to a change in either of the beliefs, behaviours or attitudes so as to reduce the resultant discomfort and bring back balance. The theory further suggests that all human beings have an inner drive which makes them hold all their attitudes and beliefs harmoniously, thus avoiding disharmony, also referred to as dissonance. This explains why people experience cognitive dissonance. There might be changes in attitudes due to factors emanating within the person, with the principles of cognitive consistency being an important factor. Leon Festinger, who was the first proposer of the cognitive dissonance theory, which holds that a motive geared towards maintaining a cognitive consistency that is powerful can lead to behaviour that is maladaptive and sometimes irrational. He further argues that people hold much cognition about the universe and their person, such that upon them clashing, a discrepancy is created which leads to a state of tension, popularly known as cognitive dissonance. Due to the unpleasant nature of the experience of dissonance, mankind is highly motivated to either reduce or totally eliminate it, thus coming to a state of consonance or rather agreement (Tsang, 2002).

The main purpose of the study was to explore how cognitive dissonance comes about, through checking the effect of offered alternatives on preferences in both capuchins and children, when the experimenter choses a certain alternative against when he does not.

Research methods used to conduct the study were namely; experiments and data collection through experiments. Comparison between different variables was also done. Measurements on how quickly each monkey got into the testing chamber were also done so as to retrieve the M &M. The method was experimental in that the experimenter alternatively choses a certain option to check how it will affect both children and capuchins preferences, then again experiments when he chooses against the same alternative.

Participants of the study were 6 capuchins (Cebus apella) in the capuchin study. They were obtained from Yale University’s Comparative Cognition Library. The group had 2 adolescents and 4 adult monkeys which were tested by use of M & M’s candies as stimuli. In their recruitment, in the beginning of every test for preference, the monkey was contained in its cage at home, immediately outside a chamber for testing, and was given the go ahead to get in upon its wish to retrieve the M & M. For each monkey, at least nine colours’ preferences of the M & M that were different were evaluated. Measurements on the speed at which the monkeys entered the chamber for testing were also taken so as to retrieve the M & M. Each colour’s preference was then evaluated in 20 trials for each monkey, with trials for each specific colour being done for two sessions of experiment. The monkey participants were not compensated for their participation. However, the children were very much enthusiastic on playing with the stickers of different shapes, a reward for their participation as they are used in pre-schools as gifts for good behaviour (Tsang, 2002).

According to (Louisa et al, 2006),in the Child study, a test was done first in a choice condition, then in a no-choice condition, with complete ratings for similar numbers of triads. In the condition with choice, foam stickers of different shapes that were adhesive and commercially available were used. The experimenter began with familiarizing the children with the scale of rating, then explained to them that the face that has the largest smile corresponded to a liking that is great, the face bearing a straight line for the mouth corresponded to zero  liking, with intermediate faces corresponding to increased liking with an increase in the degree of smile. Three queries were then provided, from which the responses would confirm the comprehension of children on the scale. In the condition without choice, each child was given either A or B. A display of both A and B was done in the choice condition then gave instructions on giving each child a sticker to take home. Upon receiving the sticker, a choice was given to the child between the alternative that was unreceived, that is either A or B, depending on the one that the experimenter had given the child earlier on (Lieberman et al, 2001).

The conditions in the monkey study were similar as four conceptually similar tests to those given to the children were given to each monkey. Their testing was done inside a testing enclosure that was familiar to that of children; same dimensions. There followed a session for one choice then a session with no choices. Each session had 1 choice trial with phase one and two (Louisa et al, 2006).

In (Louisa et al, 2006),Stickers were used because in pre-schools they are often used as gifts for good behaviours therefore the expected results would be obtained because children were enthusiastic about playing with them. The M & Ms were used because monkeys have different preferences for colours, just like the M & Ms have different colours, therefore they would give desirable results for the study.

The study findings were that just like children, monkeys can easily change their current preferences to match with decisions they made in the past. The implication of this is that as both non-human primates and children derogate alternatives that are unchosen increases the probability that the push towards dissonance reduction is a human psychology aspect whose emergence does not require much experience. Further, the findings show that speculations that reduction in cognitive-dissonance is reliant on major processes cause further speculations that concerns the driving mechanisms nature.

There are several practical applications for the above mentioned findings for a parent or teacher who plans to change a young child’s behaviour. From the information provided in the article, the behaviour can be changed through influencing the young children to make certain decisions related to the behaviour as these decisions will always affect the child’s preference in the near future which greatly influences one’s choice of behaviour. Changing the child’s mind-set changes his way of thinking and preferences as well which all lead to behavioural changes.

At some point in life, I used to indulge in cigarette smoking due to influence and pressure from peers but with time, the fact that smoking leads to cancer and other related conditions made me refrain from the habit. The thought of cognition, that cancer made me think of how a high medical cost would be incurred for it to be cured, yet I could still change from the lifestyle. Upon this projection, the drive to quit became even stronger upon learning of many other side effects. I finally had to refrain totally even though initially I used to see it as a good lifestyle so as to fit in the peer group.

From the course work and case study in the provided article, it is made clear that, due to the fact that both non-human primates derogate alternatives that are unchosen, there is an increase in the possibility that the push towards the reduction of dissonance is a human psychology aspect that comes up without necessarily there being much experience. As made clear from the excerpt, similarities in behaviours between human subjects that are young and primates that are closely related clearly shows world cognitive systems that many people think are to be constrained in various development levels, may be even resulting to innate emergence. From the findings in the provided material, it has been made clear that certain mechanisms that lead to processes of reduction in cognitive-dissonance in human adults may come up due to systems that are both evolutionarily and developmentally consistent and that which exhibit consistency across ages, cultures and species as well as species (Louisa et al, 2006).


 Louisa, C. et al, (2006) The Origins of Cognitive Dissonance: Evidence from Children and Monkeys, Yale University, USA. Print.

Lieberman, M.D et al (2001). Do amnesics exhibit cognitive dissonance reduction? The role of explicit memory and attention in attitude change in Psychological Science. Print.

Tsang, J. (2002). Moral rationalization and the integration of situational factors and psychological processes in immoral behaviour in Review of General Psychology. USA. Print.

Leave a Reply