There are two crucial respects in which dissonance theory can be distinguished from its balance theory counterparts. First, the variable of commitment is all important, and plays a role in virtually every dissonance analysis. The second critical ingredient of the theory is responsibility for the commitment, a two- component concept consisting of the dimensions of choice and foreseeability. The previous chapter spelled out the experimental determinants of choice and its effects, and in all of that research foreseeability was held at a constant high level. In fact, every piece of research reported thus far has held the foreseeability aspect of responsibility at a high level, simply by insuring that subjects understand the consequence of the discrepant actions before committing themselves.
Why must consequences be foreseen at the time of commitment? Wouldn't more dissonance be aroused if a person were taken by surprise? Certainly there should be a sense in which a person would be made to feel uncomfortable by the onset of unexpected and disagreeable consequences; however, as will be shown in several pieces of research, the state of discomfort does not always seem to be one of cognitive dissonance. When a person commits himself to a discrepant action and later discovers that his actions will lead to the irreparable harm of a fellow student, such knowledge will certainly have some psychological impact. This impact could easily be labeled frustration, anger, surprise, or a variety of other terms. There may be many physiological consequences due to surprise, and a great many motivational processes may get underway. However, dissonance reduction does not appear to be one such consequence, for as long as the individual did not anticipate the consequence at the time of his commitment, there is a real sense in which he is not a personal causal agent. In fact, there is a close tie between the surprised person and the person who undertakes an action under heavy constraint. The latter individual may understand the consequences when he unwillingly undertakes the action, but neither he nor the person who is surprised can reasonably be considered the personal cause of the undesired consequence.