Cognitive Dissonance Essay

Topic Chosen
The subject matter of the essay is cognitive dissonance. This phenomenon may be defined as the condition under which a subject is induced to entertain inconsistent thoughts or attitudes with respect to a given topic. Externally and artificially imposed dissonance might be expected to have a cooling effect upon subjects’ willingness to enter into relationships with peers with whom they encountered pointed disagreement (McLeod, 2018).

The peer-reviewed source article for this analysis is cited in an up-to-date APA-styled bibliography as follows:
Vaidis, D. C., & Oberle, D. (2014). Approaching opponents and leaving supporters: Adjusting physical proximity to reduce cognitive dissonance. Social Behavior and Personality 42(7): 1091-1098.

Problem Investigated
The exact problem investigated dealt with how individuals might use physical distance from or proximity to peers as an indicator of their level of comfort with relationships to which they were forcibly introduced. The theory of cognitive dissonance asserts that the mental agitation that results from a shift of opinion from one’s initial stance results in a certain unease. This unease, in turn, influences how these individuals approach the prospect of face-to-face meetings with other individuals who can be expected beforehand either to agree or to disagree with their subjective stance.

Hypotheses Tested
The researchers formulated twin hypotheses. The first hypothesis (H1) was that, when preparing for a meeting, individuals who had been subjected to feelings of cognitive dissonance by being required to reverse their intellectual stance on a given issue would choose to locate in closer physical proximity to a second subject who agreed with their new stance and father from a second subject who disagreed. The second hypothesis (H2) was that individuals who had not been subjected to such feelings would choose propinquity with like-minded individuals and greater physical removal from unlike-minded individuals.
Method of Data Collection

The data collection protocol was rather elaborate. Subjects were first required to write an essay describing three benefits of the obtainment and possession of a student identification card. Some of these subjects (the experimental group) were then required to pen a second essay in which they adopted quite an opposite stance, detailing three criticisms of the student identification card. The remanent subjects (the control group) were not required to pen a second essay. After the completion of their assigned essays, subjects were notified that they would shortly be introduced to a subject who either agreed or disagreed with their initial stance. Two chairs were present in the meeting room, one for the original subject and one for the forthcoming visitor. The subjects were asked to position the visitor’s char in a location that they found comfortably reassuring.

As part of the experimental procedure, subjects were required to complete a short questionnaire in which they qualified the depths of their respective feelings of cognitive dissonance. These feelings were qualified on an eleven-point Likert scale, which forges a middle ground between qualitative and quantitative characterizations of a datum. Indeed, such a scale permits a response that strikes the subject as qualitative to be more precisely operationalized so that the response can serve as input to more formalized statistical analyses (Sullivan & Artino, 2013).

The set of experimental subjects consisted of students sourced from psychology classes offered at a French university. The subjects ranged in age from 18 to 25. 62 subjects were initially chosen, consisting of 50 women and 12 men. However, two women and one man had to be expelled from the study because they expressed a variety of concerns and suspicions that, in the researchers’ opinion, were inconsonant with the spirit of the experiment and attendant expectations of reliable and reproducible results. Therefore, the ultimate set of study participants consisted of 59 students, 48 female and 11 male.

There were two independent variables in this experiment. The first variable measured whether or not a given student was manipulated into a cognitively dissonant situation. Those who wrote positive essays and then were required to refute them were expected to encounter cognitive dissonance, whereas those who penned positive essays only were not so expected. The second variable measured whether the student were to be exposed to an individual who agreed or disagreed with his initial opinion. In the case of those subjects who were required to create a second essay, this variable corresponded to whether the second individual disagreed or agreed, respectively, with his final opinion.

The experiment was expected to yield a single dependent variable by means of which putative correlations and causality against the input variables were to be determined. This variable was a continuous numerical quantity that measured the distance from his own chair at which the participant chose to locate the forthcoming visitor’s chair. The underlying assumption is that individuals’ choices of physical separation are accurately reflective of their attendant perceptions of intellectual or attitudinal distance (Ayduk & Cross, 2010).

The design of the experiment enabled the researchers to gather input data that was distributed across the entire Cartesian product space, so to speak, of possible dispositions and attitudes and responses. Indeed, subjects were variously either forced or not forced into a situation whereby they could be expected to perceive cognitive dissonance and were then introduced into social situations where they encountered either presumably accordant or presumably discordant peers.

In cases where cognitive dissonance was not introduced, subjects were more comfortable sitting closer to visitors who were expected to agree with their final, changed positions and farther from other visitors. By way of contrast, when cognitive dissonance was not a factor, subjects were more comfortable sitting closer to visits who were expected to agree with their initial positions and father from other visitors.

Thoughts and Feelings About the Results
It is hardly surprising that young adults chose to sit in closer physical proximity to those who were expected to agree with them, that is, with whom they might reasonably anticipate a pleasant rather than confrontational exchange. It was somewhat surprising that those participants who changed their minds seemed so committed to their revised positions that were obviously antithetical of their initial ones. One might conclude thence that people can be induced relatively easily to change their opinions to diametric opposites of their inherent stances and that, despite their individual levels of commitment to their original viewpoints, their forcibly revised opinions served as a more critical determinant of voluntary propinquity or remoteness than did their instinctive opinions. It is equally frustrating that the researchers were so convinced beforehand that individuals would be uncomfortable with visitors of the opposite sex that they constrained the experiment to same-sex pairs (Vaidis & Oberle, 2014, p. 1094).

One finds it disappointing that supposed adults appear to derive their senses of identity from such trivial considerations and, moreover, seem to stand in active fear of individuals who may disagree with them. This appears consonant, however, with the new definition of “open-mindedness,” which seems to be that everyone who agrees with me is acceptable but everyone else is a monster. One also flatly disagrees with Vaidis and Oberle’s conclusion that “the other’s attitude was not perceived as a complementary source of dissonance but, rather, as an opportunity for dissonance reduction” (2014, p. 1097).

It would have been interesting to have included more men in the study, ideally achieving a reasonable balance between male and female participants. This is the case because one assumes that women are naturally more conciliatory than men whereas men are innately more confrontational. Given that 81 percent of the respondents were female, it does not seem that equitable coverage was achievable, let alone achieved.

Thoughts and Feelings About the Article
The study was, frankly, disappointingly trivial. Moreover, the results were entirely predictable, as a result of which the study came across as unenlightening, even boring. The introductory quotation from Michael Corleone (Vaidis & Oberle, 2014, p. 1091) was inappropriately lighthearted given the presumable gravity of the study. At the same time, requiring respondents to answer a question posited across an eleven-point Likert scale (p. 1095) seems extremely burdensome and altogether unreasonable. Such a plenitude of choices seems more likely to cause confusion and frustration than to elicit accurate and actionable replies (Krockow, 2018).
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Ayduk, Ö., & Kross, E. (2010, May). From a distance: Implications of spontaneous self-distancing for adaptive self-reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98(5): 809-829.
Krockow, E. M. (2018, October 9). Too much choice: Too many choices can leave you dissatisfied and disappointed. Psychology Today.
McLeod, S. (2018, February 5). Cognitive dissonance. Simply Psychology.
Sullivan, G. M., & Artino, A. R. (2013, December). Analyzing and interpreting data from Likert-type scales. Journal of Graduate Medical Education 5(4): 541-542.
Vaidis, D. C., & Oberle, D. (2014). Approaching opponents and leaving supporters: Adjusting physical proximity to reduce cognitive dissonance. Social Behavior and Personality 42(7): 1091-1098.