The notion of choice as a mediator of dissonance processes has come to be treated as virtual magic among dissonance researchers. Quite reliably, it has been a uniquely instrumental variable in the creation of dissonance-reduction effects, especially within the sometimes perplexing forced-compliance procedure. But the discovery of choice as a crucial manipulation should in no way imply that choice bears no qualitative similarity to other variables affecting dissonance arousal. In fact, the empirical notion of "choice," which stands for certain operations and nothing more, is directly implied by the ratio formula for dissonance arousal. This point was touched upon earlier and might be elaborated briefly.
It is normally assumed in this analysis that the behavioral commitment, the focal point of a dissonance analysis, is by definition the primary consonant cognition. Any cognitive elements consistent with it are labeled "consonant" and serve to reduce dissonance, while elements inconsistent are labeled "dissonant" and serve to raise dissonance. For the sake of example assume that a highly intellectual student from a prestige school is asked to compose an essay favoring compulsory religious courses at his school. He privately believes the opposite, thus the commitment to defend religion should be dissonance provoking as long as there are few cognitions consistent with his commitment. Now to the choice variable.
In order to simplify the situation, assume the existence of just three relevant cognitions: the preexisting anticompulsory-religion attitude (the only dissonant cognition), the commitment to write (consonant by definition), and some degree of coercion to write (a consonant cognition):
|preexisting antireligious attitude|
|amount of dissonance||=|
|a degree of coercion|