Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance

By Robert A. Wicklund; Jack W. Brehm | Go to book overview

9 Modes of Response to Dissonance

There are three broad classes of behaviors that can result from the prior arousal of dissonance. The first of these consists of those responses that mirror the presence of cognitive dissonance, such as the recall of discrepant information and regret discussed in Chapter 8. The second is the active attempt to cope with dissonance, consisting of adding consonant cognitions or subtracting dissonant cognitions. Finally, independent of these first two, there are behaviors carried out in the interest of dissonance avoidance. Such behaviors might be directed either at taking the person's conscious attention off the dissonant relations, or alternatively, off the circumstances that prompt him to think of the dissonant relations. This chapter focuses on the last two, and has been written in an effort to capture the variety of circumstances that lead to the many forms of dissonance reduction and avoidance.

While it is true that some research has examined individual differences as sources of differential reactions to dissonance arousal, this chapter will not discuss such investigations. This is because individual differences in the use of any particular mode of dissonance reduction (or avoidance) can reflect processes other than the differential preference for modes. For example, a person who makes little use of the mode of selective avoidance of information may do so because of an ability to tolerate dissonance, or alternatively, because the circumstances did not create much dissonance for him in the first place. Since all of the relevant individual differences contain this kind of ambiguity, they will be reserved for a Chapter 14, which is devoted entirely to individual differences. Within that context the question of preferences for modes will be raised again.


RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

Aside from the magnitude of dissonance, we have seen that the most general factor controlling dissonance reduction is the resistance to change of relevant cognitions. This follows from the fact that once dissonance occurs, it can be

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