Cognitive Dissonance Theory and the Certification Examination: The Role of Responsibility

Article excerpt

Taiwanese schools are actively promoting opportunities for students to obtain specialized certificates during their formal education. However, some students do not intend to achieve certification. Questions about how to increase these students' motivation to pursue this goal have therefore arisen. Based on cognitive dissonance theory (CDT), the aim in this study was to examine whether or not students' attitudes toward certification examinations change if they take personal responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and actions. The results reveal that attitude change was greatest among business students who most strongly felt a sense of responsibility. As predicted, the results were consistent with CDT.

Keywords: attitude change, certification examination, cognitive dissonance theory, responsibility.

The job market in Taiwan is currently very competitive and it is difficult to find a job without professional certification. Because this is so, gaining professional certification has emerged as a trend in Taiwan (Cheng & Hsu, 2011; Cheng, Lin, & Su, 2011). Examinations for this purpose have received a great deal of attention as a result of the government's promotion of the system of certification. In response to this trend, schools have been actively encouraging undergraduates to obtain professional certification - particularly in technological and vocational subjects - while they are still at school. Previous researchers have focused on graduate credentials in fields such as intensive care nursing (Santiano & Daffurn, 2003), professional writing (Epain, 2005), radiation oncology (Kun et al., 2005), teaching (Chou, 2010), and surgery (Panagopoulos, Schein, & Wise, 1999). Few researchers have examined attitudes and behaviors in relation to certification in business and management.

Cognitive dissonance theory (CDT; Cooper & Fazio, 1984; Festinger, 1957) presupposes the existence of needs in the context of discrepancies between attitudes and behavior (Aronson, 1969; Johnson, Kelly, & LeBlanc, 1995). Previous researchers have suggested that external justification is the key factor influencing experiences of cognitive dissonance and that such justification motivates attitude change (Aronson, 1969; Chiou & Wan, 2007; Frank, 1990; Goethals, Cooper, & Naficy, 1979; Wan & Chiou, 2010). In this study we used CDT to investigate the formation of attitude change. We designed an empirical approach involving the manipulation of the factor of a sense of responsibility for the consequences of one's actions.

The main aim in this study was to examine whether or not a sense of responsibility for consequences of one's actions can explain students' attitudinal changes toward business-related certification examinations.

Literature Review

Responsibility for Consequences and Attitudinal Change

Individuals' attitudes are affected by the extent to which they feel personally responsible for the acts or tasks they perform. When individuals feel personally responsible for the negative consequences of an action they have chosen to perform, dissonance emerges irrespective of whether the consequences could reasonably have been foreseen (Goethals et al., 1979). In contrast, irrespective of how damaging the consequences are, individuals will not experience dissonance for negative consequences if they are not a result of a choice.

Pallak, Sogin, and Van Zante (1974) found that when individuals felt personally responsible for a boring task they valued mat task more highly and their dissonance was reduced. Under such conditions, individuals felt responsible for the consequences related to their behavior and their attitudes changed insofar as they experienced a sense of personal responsibility for the consequences of their behavior (Sogin & Pallak, 1976).

If students intending to take certification examinations felt responsible for tasks involving extra mental and physical effort as well as extra difficulty, then dissonance would be expected to occur insofar as they felt personally responsible for the consequences related to these tasks. …