Using DISS-R to Compare the Dissonance Scores of Four Groups: Incarcerated Adults, High School, College and University Students

By Thompson, Isabelle S.; Barnhart, Ryan G. et al. | College Student Journal, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Using DISS-R to Compare the Dissonance Scores of Four Groups: Incarcerated Adults, High School, College and University Students


Thompson, Isabelle S., Barnhart, Ryan G., Chow, Peter, College Student Journal


In our day-to-day striving, dissonance litters obstacles along the path of personal development and these obstacles cause pain and hinder growth. An environment that is relatively free from dissonance should foster personal development and enhance growth. The Dissonance Test-Revised (DISS-R), a test derived from second force psychology, was administered to 820 incarcerated adults, high school, college and university students. The results indicated that the incarcerated scored significantly higher than the other three student groups in all of the eight part scores of the test. It is suggested that perhaps DISS-R could be used to identify problems associated with personal growth before they become manifest as something insurmountable.

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Leon Festinger (1957) of Stanford University developed a theory of cognitive dissonance that has become one of the most influential models in social psychology (Cooper & Stone, 2000; Jones, 1985). He coined the term cognitive dissonance to denote feelings of unpleasantness located deep in the unconscious (Elliot & Devine, 1994). Festinger held that cognitive dissonance is a state of psychological discomfort that results from possessing incompatible cognitions, or elements about oneself, one's behavior, or the environment. According to Montell (2001), chronic dissonance may be experienced by individuals as a background discomfort much like a person suffering from a chronic medical condition such as arthritis.

The notion of cognitive dissonance stems from second force psychology. More specifically, it derives from the work of Sigmund Freud and underlies the use of psychoanalysis in the helping professions (Taylor, 1962). Freud held that individuals with psychiatric problems hold hurts or pains deep in the unconscious which hamper them from reaching full potential. Consequently, the goal is to uncover the hurts and transcend them to a conscious level (Cassel, 2001; Taylor, 1962).

Two types of inconsistencies lead to dissonance: one where the individual perceives cognitions which are inconsistent (Festinger, 1964), and the second being when society or culture states that these cognitions do not fit (Stone & Cooper, 2001). Festinger insisted that psychologists could develop tests to assess the presence, nature and specific area of one's life-space where such hurts were located.

The Dissonance Test-Revised (DIS S-R)

The Dissonance Test, DISS (Cassel & Chow, 2000; Chow, 2001), was developed according to Festinger's theory to serve as a means for helping individuals discover and identify such areas of dissonance; so that on a conscious level they might plan for ways to eliminate them. DISS was designed with the view that social workers and guidance counselors are capable of employing the same theory used by the psychiatrists and psychologists, but in a more simplified manner. Since its debut in 2000, several studies have been conducted using DISS. Cassel and DeMoulin (2000) administered the test to prison inmates and also to members of the Air Force JRTOTC program in high school. The data showed "a distinctive 'first offender' profile" (p. 429). It was suggested that this test could be used to identify potential offenders early and take corrective action before problems might arise. In another study, Cassel, Chow, DeMoulin, and Reiger (2001) administered DISS to a group of juvenile delinquent boys and to a comparison group of typical high school students. They found that the prison inmates scored significantly higher in seven of the eight part scores, indicating a greater degree of dissonance in this group.

On the basis of these studies, DISS was revised into DISS-R which has improved content as well as improved psychometric properties. It seeks to determine the presence of dissonance in two general areas of one's life space: (1) Inner and Personal, and (2) External and Impersonal.

Each area consists of four parts and each part is made up of 25 items. …

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