Attitude-Discrepant Behavior

Behavior that clashes with previously held attitudes is called attitude-discrepant behavior. This is the type of behavior that creates dissonance, so this is the type of behavior that changes attitudes. Sears, Peplau, Freedman, and Taylor (1988) offer an example:

What is an attitude-discrepant behavior, and what effect does it have?

Many people when they are in high school or college rebel against the routinized, conformist ways of the ordinary adult working world. They swear they will never let themselves be trapped in a 9 to 5 routine, wearing suits and ties or tailored dresses. Whether they describe themselves as bohemians, beatniks, hippies or punks, they dress differently, stay up late at night, drink, smoke, or take drugs, and generally do not behave in a conventional, suburban middle-class manner. Yet these same people often wind up a few years later wearing suits and ties, working 9 to 5, worrying about the crabgrass or the mortgage or the next raise, and so on. Not only that, but they believe it is right, and that people who do not conform should not be hired... Why the change?

Dissonance theory would argue that they began engaging in attitude-dissonant behavior when they first got a job, because that was the condition of the job....They had to dress well, and so on. But this created dissonance. Their behavior was inconsistent with their attitudes. So with time, they adjusted their attitudes to become more consistent with their behavior (p.179)

What were some modifications of cognitive dissonance theory in the 1980s?

More examples of cognitive dissonance theory are in Chapter 9 (Motivation), because cognitive dissonance theory can be seen as a theory of motivation as well as a theory of attitude change. As with all the classic theories of social psychology, thousands of research studies led to modifications and challenges to the original ideas. For example, researchers in the early 1980s found that people were not always distressed by dissonance, as Festinger implied. They also found that principles of cognitive dissonance were most strongly predictive when a person's sense of integrity and self-respect were involved, as in the above examples.

How did Aronson feel about cognitive dissonance theory at the beginning of the 1990s?

Festinger's student Eliot Aronson acknowledges that the theory has undergone some modifications, but he points out that cognitive dissonance theory is still a powerful tool. One of its greatest assets is that it makes predictions that often contradict common sense. Aronson concluded that this theory, first proposed in the 1950s, was still "alive and well" (DeAngelis, 1990, in Krupat, 1994).

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