Earlier chapters have illustrated the role of dissonance theory in reactions to others, but within the context of making particular theoretical points. For example, Aronson and Mills ( 1959) demonstrated that subjects who must come to justify an embarrassing initiation rite will subsequently increase their liking for a group. Brehm and Wicklund ( 1970) showed that attraction to two people is a function of choosing between them. Just as in any other dissonance-arousing decision, the person choosing comes to see the chosen as increasingly attractive and the unchosen as less attractive. The present chapter also deals with dissonance-mediated reactions to others, but the purpose here is not specifically to demonstrate theoretical issues surrounding the theory. Instead the theory is applied to areas of psychology that have traditionally been studied from theoretical perspectives other than dissonance theory. Just as in the preceding several chapters, our purpose is to show how dissonance theory might provide an alternative approach to phenomena normally dealt with in other conceptual language. Five problem areas have been selected for this discussion of reactions to others: (a) the individual's attraction to a group, (b) motivational effects of social deprivation, (c) aggression, (d) defensive projection, and (e) reactions to inequity.
Imagine a person who is asked to perform a somewhat difficult discrimination task, consisting of estimating which of two stars has the greater number of points. This person is led to believe either that he has high or low ability at this task. Then he is asked to make a series of discriminations between pairs of stars, but in the meantime he stands a chance of being influenced by a small group: