Social psychology

Social Psychology Assignment
Psychology is an interesting study mainly because it aids in explaining the formations
of human behaviour. Human beings are prone to behaving in a specific way when they have
been exposed to certain situations. People’s thoughts, behaviours, and feelings are controlled
or influenced by the implied, actual or imagined presence of other human beings. Being
creatures whose actions are determined by reflection, human beings are influenced
by numerous variables around them that are responsible for the making of decisions. It
is important to discover the reasons why human beings react in a specific way and through
psychology, interpersonal relationships are examined in a closer and deeper way. Theories
that surround and help in explaining human behaviour are frequent, particularly those that
apply to social phenomena. This essay explores social psychology by focus and analysis on
cognitive dissonance. It is a theory in psychology that tends to explain the behaviour of
human beings through their cognitive self. When individuals feel that a certain action has
gone against their beliefs or attitudes, they are bound to change that action (Festinger,
1957). In case there is dissonance in terms of behaviour or attitudes, there has to be a change
that will aid in eliminating the dissonance. The production of a feeling that is not
comfortable creates an alteration of beliefs and attitudes that help in reducing
the discomfort felt (Girandola, 2010). Below are two personal experiences that have a
relation to cognitive dissonance theory.
I am an individual who likes and loves helping others out particularly if they
cannot help themselves. I am a benevolent individual in nature and this is deep within me as
most times I am in a situation to help an individual, I do help them. A friend of mine earlier
on came and asked for my help in the form of monetary aid. I did not think much about it and
instead stretched out my hand and gave the aid needed. I like maintaining and managing my
finance which is why I like saving. It was because of this that I did have money I could spare
and help out a friend. Later on, the same friend came back later and asked for an additional
sum, which coincided perfectly with the fact that I had some money saved up. The funding
that I had saved up was nearly finished but I still went ahead to help him. He came back at
a later time and asked for another sum, and considering he had not yet paid off the former
two amounts even after providing ample time, I went against my beliefs and
did not offer my help. I felt uncomfortable since I did not offer my help to my friend and
this affected me because I felt guilty for not offering my help. I am an individual
who believes in helping other people because I believe it brings and attracts more
blessings. I later came to learn that my friend was going through a crisis and at the time there
was no one else he could turn to. That made me feel more uncomfortable which led me to
forsake the initial debt that he had and granted him an additional amount to help him deal
with his crisis.
Later on, another incident occurred to me; I believe in treating people in a manner that
is respectful and polite. At one time, I was having a really bad day and nearly everyone
who I came into contact with bore the brunt. I responded to people rudely and with little
concern to their feelings. At times, I would passively aggressively respond to them with little
regard to their feelings. One might think that this did help in reducing the pressure that had
built in added to the frustration but it only increased the pressure and frustration. What I did
not realize was that the individuals I was responding rudely to were people who just like me
may have had their own frustrations and were probably having a day that was worse than
mine. After re-evaluation, I decided that this was not supposed to be my response
or my attitude towards people. I embarked on doing the exact opposite and made a decision
to portray kindness in each situation regardless of how my day or week was going
and regardless of the person I was addressing. I made a conscious decision to be kind to
everyone I met, and it did have an amazing difference. It provided me with a better
day than I had initially and allowed me to have a better closing for the day. This was a step
towards a transformation and it allowed me to appreciate other people.
Cognitive dissonance is a situation where there are conflicting beliefs, behaviours
or beliefs (Girandola, 2010). This is a theory that best explains the two experiences
mentioned above as they share a similarity in presence of conflicting beliefs and
attitudes. Feelings of discomfort were felt in both instances and this was due to the effect of
alterations in either behaviour or attitude or both. According to research conducted, people do
tend to look for consistency in their perceptions and beliefs (Festinger & Carlsmith,
1959). The problem comes in when one of the beliefs contradicts another belief that was held
previously. In the first instance, there was a belief or attitude of helping people who are in
need. That was a belief that was held previously and after the action; not helping a friend who
needed help occurred, there was a feeling of cognitive dissonance. Feelings
of discomfort result when an individual is holding two beliefs that are
conflicting. Author Festinger who has written a piece of literature by the title, “A theory
of cognitive dissonance” explains that cognitive dissonance is a tendency through which
people seek for consistency amongst their attitudes or beliefs (Festinger,
1957). Festinger suggests through experiment that human beings do hold on to an inner drive
that aids in preventing disharmony. This is defined as the cognitive consistency principle
which was proved by Festinger when he conducted an experiment based on observations
from the study of a group that believed in a premonition that did not come to pass.
Festinger used observation as his main methodology, and it went on to provide
evidence of the existence of cognitive dissonance amongst the cult members (Festinger,
1957). The events in the experiment do match up the conditions that are supposed to be
present for cognitive dissonance to occur. Festinger did discover that individuals tend
to seek consistency amongst their actions, as when the belief did not come to pass, some of
them might have attributed it to sheer experience while those who considered themselves as
staunch might have found another explanation as to why it did not happen to reaffirm
their belief. According to research, cognitive dissonance can be corrected through the
application of a remedy which involves the elimination of the dissonance that has
occurred (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959). According to the theory, the experienced tension and
discomfort are as a result of a mismatch of the behaviour, which in this case is failing to aid
my friend against the belief of helping individuals who are in need, yet I was in a position to
aid them. In the other experience, there was the occurrence of cognitive dissonance
when the belief of treating people kindly and politely was conflicted when the behaviour
conducted was the opposite of the attitude. The above experiences have the ability
to support the existence of cognitive dissonance as there has been conflicting attitudes
and beliefs in both experiences. Inner or internal consistency is one of a key goal in the
existence of cognitive dissonance as it provides a balance of the normal activities of an
individual. Beliefs that are conflicting or have a form of inconsistency lead to disharmony
which is what people try to avoid in the first place (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959). According
to the theory, people tend to seek cognitions that are consistent, and they take various steps to
remove the conflicting dissonance (Girandola, 2010).
In the first experience, this involved the re-evaluation of the behaviour that had
occurred and how it had forsaken a belief. After conducting this behaviour, there was the
guilt that was felt at the moment. This was followed by use of a positive form of behaviour to
reduce or eliminate the dissonance that caused the imbalance. In the second experience,
the behaviour of shouting and being disrespectful to others due to having a bad day prompted
the feelings of guilt when it went against the attitude of belief of treating people kindly and
politely regardless of the situation. Both experiences have managed to provide sufficient
evidence of this. According to research, people reduce dissonance through the change of
behaviour which in this case was started by making various decisions (Girandola, 2010). In
the first experience, the decision that was made was to forget the initial debt that was owed
and provide aid to a friend who was in dire need of help. This resulted in a positive feeling
which provided for the harmony or balance that initially lacked. In the second experience, the
decision that was reached was to treat other people politely and kindly regardless of the
situation. This resulted in the balance being achieved as it made the dissonance factor become
a non-factor (Festinger, 1957). Mental manoeuvres are implemented as dealing with
cognitive dissonance requires behaviour to be changed. One of the major ways through which
this can be achieved is the change in behaviour. The chosen alternative is increased while
the alternative that has been rejected is decreased. Once this happens, there is a situation that
can be referred to as a separation of the variables or the alternatives. Dissonance and decision
making are conjoined together because one does influence the other (Festinger & Carlsmith,
Carlsmith & Festinger, authors of the piece of literature, “Cognitive consequences of
forced compliance” indicate that social comparison is a major driver with regards to cognitive
dissonance (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959). Individuals try to search for images that are on the
outside that help them in evaluating themselves in terms of abilities and opinions. These
images are presented by other people which results in comparisons. Research conducted
by Carlsmith and Festinger through a lab test where individuals were asked to conduct
various tasks that were deemed boring revealed that the human mind can be subject to change
in decisions once an incentive has been introduced. The experiment involved different groups
that were used to test cognitive dissonance theory and they each presented different
results. One control group that was exposed to behaviour that conflicted with their attitude or
belief showed evidence of cognitive dissonance while the other did not because there was
nothing that was contradicting their decisions. The participants in the experiment were
supposed to conduct various tasks that were deemed boring, with the control group not
getting paid while the other group being paid to tell other participants that the activity was
fun and enjoyable. Evidence showed that individuals who were provided with more incentive
in the form of more money were more likely to tell others that the activities were fun
compared to those who were given little or no incentive (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).
Theory of cognitive dissonance does exist in the above experiences and it shows that
when individuals are subjected to situations that are conflicting to their beliefs or attitudes,
they experience cognitive dissonance to try and maintain a balance that is healthy.
The dissonance theory does prove to be one that is resilient and in any context is very useful
as it explains human behaviour. In addition to research, there are three main assumptions that
can be reached when talking about cognitive dissonance. They include the fact that human
beings have a sensitive aspect when it comes to inconsistencies that happen between beliefs
and actions. The other is that when dissonance is experienced, there are ways through which
it can be corrected such as the change of beliefs, change of the action perception
and action change. Lastly, the recognition of any inconsistency leads to dissonance which
will lead to motivation to resolve the imbalance.
Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance, Evanston, IL: Row & Peterson.
Festinger, L. & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance.
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203 210.
Girandola, F. (2010). Double Forced Compliance and Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Journal
of Social Psychology. Volume 137, 1997.

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