Monday, July 09, 2007

While on the general subject of cognitive dissonance, btw...

I want to thank Azundris for the link to the experiment i couldn't remember how or where the hell to find the reference, and it was driving me nuts. Yeah, file under the general subject of dissonance, cognitive:

In Festinger and Carlsmith's classic 1959 experiment, students were made to perform tedious and meaningless tasks, consisting of turning pegs quarter-turns and, another one, putting spools onto a tray, emptying the tray, refilling it with spools, and so on. Participants rated these tasks very negatively. After a long period of doing this, students were told the experiment was over and they could leave. This is an example of an induced compliance study.

However, the experimenter then asked the subject for a small favor. They were told that a needed research assistant was not able to make it to the experiment, and the participant was asked to fill in and try to persuade another subject (who was actually a confederate) that the dull, boring tasks the subject had just completed were actually interesting and engaging. Some participants were paid $20 for the favor, another group was paid $1, and a control group was not requested to perform the favor.

When asked to rate the peg-turning tasks later, those in the $1 group rated them more positively than those in the $20 group and control group. This was explained by Festinger and Carlsmith as evidence for cognitive dissonance. Experimenters theorized that people experienced dissonance between the conflicting cognitions "I told someone that the task was interesting", and "I actually found it boring". When paid only $1, students were forced to internalize the attitude they were induced to express, because they had no other justification. Those in the $20 condition, it is argued, had an obvious external justification for their behavior. Behavior internalization is only one way to explain the subject's ratings of the task. The research has been extended in later years. It is now believed that there is a conflict between the belief that "I am not a liar", and the recognition that "I lied". Therefore, the truth is brought closer to the lie, so to speak, and the rating of the task goes up.

The researchers further speculated that with only $1, subjects faced insufficient justification and therefore "cognitive dissonance", so when they were asked to lie about the tasks, they sought to relieve this hypothetical stress by changing their attitude. This process allows the subject to genuinely believe that the tasks were enjoyable.

Put simply, the experimenters concluded that many human beings, when persuaded to lie without being given sufficient justification, will carry out the task by convincing themselves of the falsehood, rather than telling a bald lie.

It goes on to talk about how that particular study's been criticized for faulty design (which is the sort of shit I should be able to grasp a lot more easily and quickly if/when I ever finish this fucking research methods/stats course. in theory)

But, I think the general principle does hold up.

"Oh dearie dearie me, this is none of I!..."

tangentially, I think that actually also nails part of what was freaking me out about the Battlestar Galactica season-ender. hell, the entire damn show, come to that.


Chuckie K said...

Jeez, I love questions of method. The purported explanation of the elecitied behaviors sound entirely speculative to me. I propose the alternate accound, that the subjects had metaphysical entities sitting on their shoulders who told them what to do. We will postpone the explanation of why there were two types of entities whose advice correlated with the size of the payements to another occasion.
I also wonder whether there wasabsolute consistency within each of the two groups? I expect there was actually a range of responses and degrees. An adequate explanation would need to explain the variation and not the statistical average.

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