Attitudes, Values & Job Satisfaction

Critical Evaluation

There has been a great deal of research into cognitive dissonance, providing some interesting and sometimes unexpected findings. It is a theory with very broad applications, showing that we aim for consistency between attitudes and behaviors, and may not use very rational methods to achieve it. It has the advantage of being testable by scientific means (i.e., experiments).

However, there is a problem from a scientific point of view, because we cannot physically observe cognitive dissonance, and therefore we cannot objectively measure it (re: behaviorism). Consequently, the term cognitive dissonance is somewhat subjective.

There is also some ambiguity (i.e., vagueness) about the term ‘dissonance’ itself. Is it a perception (as ‘cognitive’ suggests), or a feeling, or a feeling about

a perception? Aronson’s Revision of the idea of dissonance as an inconsistency between a person’s self-concept and a cognition about their behavior makes it seem likely that dissonance is really nothing more than guilt.

There are also individual differences in whether or not people act as this theory predicts. Highly anxious people are more likely to do so. Many people seem able to cope with considerable dissonance and not experience the tensions the theory predicts.

Finally, many of the studies supporting the theory of cognitive dissonance have low ecological validity. For example, turning pegs (as in Festinger’s experiment) is an artificial task that doesn’t happen in everyday life.

Also, the majority of experiments used students as participants, which raise issues of a biased sample. Could we generalize the results from such experiments?


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Organizational Behavior by Icfai Business School is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.