Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance

Group Paper -

Cognitive Dissonance Paper

People can display themselves outwardly in a certain manner although on the inside be completely different. A person’s attitude and behavior can influence each other; a person’s surrounds will also have an impact on how the person is. An example of this can be seen in a person committing a crime such as shoplifting, the person knows this is illegal and not moral but in the right situation the person may forget his or her moral upbringing and commit the crime any way. Influences on the individual can be overpowering, causing the person to behave or act in an attitude different from the person’s normal action and behavior. People tend to suffer from moral hypocrisy, as most people are moral hypocrites. A person who is morally corrupt should not think that he or she can change his or her behavior, when he or she cannot change his or her own attitude. Shoplifting is a crime, but under the right influence a person may be tempted to commit such a crime, moral hypocrisy is one reason a person would act differently than expected, cognitive dissonance is another factor that may persuade the person to forget his or her upbringing.


A young woman, Carla, walks into a department store. She has many thoughts going through her mind. She is thinking about the items that she wants but cannot afford on her own because she is not quite old enough for a job and her parents will not buy her the outfit she has been looking at for going back to school.

Carla is with a couple of friends, and they say ‘The clip is missing on it, why not just take it. The department store has many of these clothes they will not notice one outfit missing.’ Her friends keep saying that the outfit looks attractive on her and would be perfect for the first day of school. Carla has never stolen anything in her life and does not want to start now, but there is nothing wrong with the outfit the skirt is long enough for school and the shirt matches and covers perfectly. She has thought in her mind again and again why her parents will not purchase just one more outfit. They will not though, even though she has begged them. The only way to obtain the outfit is to take it.

Carla heads back into the dressing room with ideas about how to make it out of the store with the items. She is nervous about getting caught; this is her favorite department store, and she does not want to be banished. She starts contemplating how to smuggle out the items. She places the clothes she is wearing that day over her items and puts on the light jacket she brought. Carla knows that what she is doing is wrong, but with her friends telling her just to take it, her desire for the clothes, and wanting to look cool for her friends she goes against her better judgment and moves forward with the plan to steal the clothes. Many thoughts are going through young Carla’s mind as she is going through this experience.

Influences on the Individual

She is getting pressure from outside sources and her conscience just keeps yelling at her to stop this behavior now. She knows that she does not need the outfit, but her friends keep encouraging her. The influences that a youth in America face today are monumental in comparison to the influences 20, 50, or 100 years ago. Peers are the hardest influence to overlook as most youths are around a peer at all times. They are subject to their friends’ thoughts and desires as well as their own. If an individual knows that his or her friends have done something and have gotten away with the act, be it legal or talking on the phone while grounded, he or she is more likely to perform the act as well. Teens do this because they have an association that “Sam did it and did not get in trouble, I can do it too and not get in trouble.” These individuals see themselves as invincible because they are in a group that performs this kind of behavior at all times, so they think nothing of the repercussions that could come.

Culturally Carla is unsure, her parents have taught her the difference between right and wrong and the thought of taking the clothes is wrong to her. Even while her grandparents were growing up in the Great Depression they never stole, what they did not need to survive. She keeps thinking though that “My friends did it, so can I.” Carla grew up in a religious home, her family attends church every Sunday, and she is very close with her family. People in her family have held honesty and trust to high standards as well as her religion. Stealing is one of the commandments forbidden to be broken as well as lying.

If Carla goes through with taking the clothes what will her parents say? Will she still be able to come to the mall with her friends? Will she be able to participate in the next game at school? Will her friends think she is a loser if she gets caught? Could she become ‘one of them’ by taking the clothing? Carla is also considering how she will feel about herself if she takes the items and how well her conscience will let her sleep at night. Carla is dealing with moral hypocrisy.

Reciprocal Relationship - Moral Hypocrisy

People tend to be creatures of habit. Even people who say they are moral can fail to act morally. This means that a person who says he or she does not approve of stealing even shoplifting, may shoplift. Many people fail to keep their moral standard when faced with temptation. According to Myer (2010) when people are not able to follow their belief’s it is no wonder they fail when attempting to change behavior by changing attitudes (p. 125). Most people are hypocrites, they say one thing with a certain attitude in public but their actions or behavior is completely different when alone. A person’s attitude does affect a person behavior, this can done through social influences, when the person is in a group. The person will play down internal desires toward a situation and assume the attitude of the group, while internal thoughts stay the same.

This downplay can be explained with social psychology. Within social psychology the reason for immoral action is broken into two types. The first is social learning; if a person is not adequate in controlling standards of morality than the person did not learn these standards very well from the beginning or in the right way (Batson, Thompson, Seuferling, Whitney, & Strongman, 1999). The second social influence is from situational pressures, orders from a higher authority, conformity, and even a lack of responsibility. Expressing behavior and attitude appears to be common knowledge; a person’s behavior and his or her outward attitudes differ because of other influences. Such attitudes and behavior could be expressed with faith in a higher power, while the person expressing this faith and devotion to the higher power, the person does not attend a religious gathering regularly. Cognitive dissonance can explain why a person would say or believe in one way yet act in another.

The Relations of Cognitive Dissonance Theory

According to Myers (2010), cognitive dissonance is “Tension that arises when one is simultaneously aware of two inconsistent cognitions” (p. 141). When there is a situation, such as shoplifting, an individual could use cognitive dissonance theory to rationalize his or her behavior. Shoplifting is definitely a crime. Every person realizes shoplifting is not morally correct and has consequences for this action. A man on the news was caught shoplifting food at the local grocery store. He was not happy that he had gotten caught. He had a family that needed his presence back home. He told the police officers he was stealing the food because his family was starving and needed to eat something, anything. The news reporter and the police officers felt sorry for the man but he or she still had to arrest him for the crime. In this situation, shoplifting is understandable. The behavior is not at all justified but understandable. The man was thinking about the welfare of his family. Most likely, this man believed that he has to protect and provide for his family by any means necessary. He probably could not take the begging, yearning, and crying for food from the family. When a person is in a situation to where his or her back is up against the wall, he or she will do what it takes to change the situation. The man did not make his or his family’s life better by shoplifting. If anything, he has worsened the matter. When a person is not thinking rationally, he or she will display behaviors that are inappropriate. Cognitive dissonance is the thoughts of knowing a certain behavior is morally wrong but doing the behavior for a certain situation or circumstance.


In conclusion no one wants to develop into a hypocrite. A person wants to mean what he or she says or does and believes what is said or done is truth. People can become easily influenced and persuaded by their social culture. A situation may arise that an individual may conduct his or her behavior differently from the way he or she would normally display. A behavior that goes against the moral standards of that individual can be cognitive dissonance. Some actions are demonstrated because a person believes the behavior is the right behavior to do at that particular time. People tend to justify their actions. When anyone has to start to justify his or her actions, he or she knows within the situation is wrong. A person must take responsibility for his or her actions, even though take responsibility is a difficult behavior for most to do.


Batson, C., Thompson, E. R., Seuferling, G., Whitney, H., & Strongman, J. A. (1999). Moral hypocrisy: Appearing moral to oneself without being so. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(3), 525-537. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.77.3.525

Myers, D. G. (2010). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill

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