Attitudes, Behavior, and Social Context: The Role of Norms and Group Membership

By Deborah J. Terry; Michael A. Hogg | Go to book overview

12 Cognitive Dissonance and the Social Group

Joel Cooper Jeff Stone Princeton University

Cognitive dissonance theory ( Festinger, 1957) has been a major player in the field of social psychology for more than 40 years. In that time, more than 1,000 studies have appeared in the literature, but rarely has the person experiencing dissonance been conceived of as a member of a group. Rather, as Zanna and Sande ( 1987) pointed out, virtually all dissonance research has focused on the individual acting alone. In this chapter, we examine some of the ways that an individual's membership in social groups can affect dissonance and examine some of the evidence that suggests that group membership can play an important role in how dissonance is reduced.

Festinger conceived of dissonance as arising from the relation among cognitions. In Festinger's view, cognitions are "knowledges" about the environment, about other people, and about one's own attitudes and behaviors. In more modern terminology, Festinger recognized that people create cognitive representations of themselves and their social world, and that the relations among these cognitive representations is a critical determinant of social behavior. Most such relations are satisfying when they are consistent, when they "fit" together in a psychological sense. Sometimes, however, cognitions do not fit with one another. Festinger proposed that when two cognitions share an inconsistent relation, dissonance is present, creating an uncomfortable drive state that needs to be reduced. In the face of inconsistent cognitions, a person is motivated to alter his or her cognitive representations to reduce the discomfort and restore greater consistency among the relevant cognitions.

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