Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Approaching Opponents and Leaving Supporters: Adjusting Physical Proximity to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Approaching Opponents and Leaving Supporters: Adjusting Physical Proximity to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance

Article excerpt

In our study of cognitive dissonance 59 students adjusted their physical proximity with an opposing other to manage dissonance. Participants wrote a counterattitudinal essay (vs. proattitudinal), then each of them was told he/she had to discuss the topic with another student who was against the current topic (vs. in favor of). While the experimenter allegedly fetched the other student the participant set up the room by installing 2 chairs. The distance between the 2 chairs was used to measure the proximity with the other. The results showed that in the dissonance condition participants set greater physical proximity when the other disagreed with their initial attitude and less physical proximity when the other was supportive of their initial attitude. We suggest further research is conducted to confirm the use of proximity as a means of dissonance reduction.

Keywords: cognitive dissonance, behavioral measure, interpersonal distance, distance reduction, physical proximity.

"Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

- Michael Corleone in The Godfather II (Coppola, 1974)

Festinger (1957/1962) suggested that social support plays an important part in the dissonance process. Indeed, others as individuals or social groups could be generative of cognitive dissonance when they show disagreement but they could also help people to reduce existing dissonance (see Matz & Wood, 2005, for a review). A few previous researchers rely expressly on this latter assumption, and they have found that people search for other people who share the same point of view (Adams, 1961; Brodbeck, 1956), try to convert the disagreeing others (Festinger, Riecken, & Schachter, 1956), or even feel more hostility toward an opposite group (Cooper & Mackie, 1983). Although there is some specificity shown in these studies, the role of social support in classical paradigms is not taken into account. Our aim in this study was to examine how proximity with another individual could be used to cope with a classical dissonance situation.

Dissonance studies dealing with social support are rare and take place in specific contexts (Cooper & Stone, 2000). Consistent information seeking cannot always be considered a dissonance process (Fischer, Schulz-Hardt, & Frey, 2008), and in the previously cited studies, in which the focus is on social support, the researchers have dealt with particular attitudes. Cooper and Mackie (1983) focused on the intergroup context and the participants had to deal with their social identity. Matz and Wood (2005) placed their participants in an intragroup context but they used a salient attitude. Thus, in these situations, participants had to deal with an important attitude, namely, their social identity or a salient topic. However, as most dissonance paradigms do not involve a central attitude (Batson, 1975), in these studies the reliance on specific contexts rather than classical paradigms is likely to have modified the way people managed dissonance (see e.g., Harmon-Jones & Harmon-Jones, 2007).

Resistance to change is the keystone for dissonance reduction (Vaidis & Gosling, 2011). The more resistant cognition remains unchanged, and reduction focuses on the cognition that is less resistant cognition to change. In short, when two cognitions do not fit together, in most cases the less resistant will change to fit the more resistant. For example, free choice is widely used to strengthen counterattitudinal behavior (Beauvois & Joule, 1996; Harmon-Jones, Harmon-Jones, Amodio, & Gable, 2011) and committed participants reduce dissonance by changing the attitude that does not fit their behavior. On the other hand, when the attitude is the cognition that is more resistant to change, or when the attitude is made salient, the classical attitude change does not occur and the reduction is focused on other cognitions (Götz-Marchand, Götz, & Irle, 1974; Simon, Greenberg, & Brehm, 1995). …

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