Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey et al. | Go to book overview

6
Clashing Cognitions:
When Actions
Prompt Attitudes

“The most merciful thing in the world … is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. ”

—H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937), American writer of cult fiction


BACKGROUND

The expression “sour grapes” is commonly employed to describe the ungracious attitude of a sore loser toward a worthy winner. However, the dictionary definition of sour grapes differs. It can be traced all the way back to a classic fable by the Greek storyteller Aesop, entitled “The Fox and the Grapes. ” Aesop tells of a ravenous fox rummaging about for scraps of food. Glancing up, the fox catches sight of a mouth—watering bunch of grapes. He valiantly tries to climb the tall tree around which the supporting vine coils. Alas, his limbs are poorly suited to scaling tree trunks, and he keeps sliding back to the ground. In the end, exhausted by his fruitless endeavors, the fox grumpily gives up. As he scampers away he consoles himself with the following thought: “I bet those grapes weren't ripe anyhow!”

Sour grapes, then, seem to have less to do with wrath and more to do with rationalization. Aesop's fable suggests that, when matters turn out badly as a result of our own action, we tend to minimize how bad they actually were to make ourselves feel better.

A vivid real—life example of this tendency comes from an in—depth field study of a doomsday cult (Festinger, Riecken, & Schachter, 1956). Led by a charismatic housewife from Minnesota, one Mrs. Marian Keech, members

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