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Clinical Implications of Consonance and Dissonance

By: , Posted on: February 23, 2015

Warren Tryon CanoeingPrinciple 7, as presented in my book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory, concerns consonance and dissonance. I represented this principle in Blogs 26 and 27 (click here for a full link to my blog archive). One of the most well established psychological principles is that people seek consonance and avoid dissonance.

The idea that people prefer consonance was first popularized by Heider (1958). He proposed that in any “triangular” relationship such as a person, their friend, and some object or issue, an odd number of negative opinions or feelings created an imbalanced situation that could only be balanced by turning the negative opinion into a positive one or changing one of the two positive opinions into a negative one because negative times negative equals positive in psychology just as it does in algebra.

For example, if persons A, B, and C all like each other then we have three positive relationships and all is in balance. But if one of them dislikes another then we have two positive and one negative relationships and that creates an imbalance that drives attitude change. Festinger (1957, 1964) referred to this uncomfortable and motivating state as dissonance. An explosion of research resulted from these seminal ideas and by 1968 Abelson et al. published 84 chapters of scientific support. Bastardi, Uhlmann, and Ross (2011) provide more contemporary support. I quoted Kunda’s (1990) summary of this work from page 530 of my book and repeat it here because it is so succinct and comprehensive.

There is considerable evidence that people are more likely to arrive at conclusions that they want to arrive at, but their ability to do so is constrained by their ability to construct seemingly reasonable justifications for these conclusions (p. 480). People do not seem to be at liberty to conclude whatever they want to conclude merely because they want to. Rather, I propose that people motivated to arrive at a particular conclusion attempt to be rational and to construct a justification of their desired conclusion that would persuade a dispassionate observer. They draw the desired conclusion only if they can muster up the evidence necessary to support it. In other words, they maintain an ‘illusion of objectivity’… To this end, they search memory for those beliefs and rules that could support their desired conclusion. They may also creatively combine accessed knowledge to construct new beliefs that could logically support the desired conclusion. It is this process of memory search and belief construction that is biased by directional goals. (pp. 482–3).

The obvious clinical relevance of this work is that people are much more emotional than rational. Their emotions strongly influence their cognitions to the point where their cognitions are mainly justifications for their feelings and actions.

People justify decisions that they have made simply because they have made them. Clinical psychologists refer to this as defensiveness. Research psychologists know this phenomenon as post-decision dissonance reduction. I provide the following example of this phenomenon on page 238 of my book.

The TV shows House Hunters and House Hunters International clearly demonstrate post-decision dissonance reduction. The contestants in these shows are taken to see, inspect, and evaluate three homes from which they purchase one. The contestants specify what they like and don’t like about each home before they purchase one of them. They frequently give fatal reasons for purchasing all three homes; they provide reasons why they could never live in any of the three houses they visited. Sometimes it is because the cost of the house is way over budget. Other times it is because the home is too far from work or the street is too noisy or the rooms are too small. Then the contestants make a decision, purchase one of the three properties, move in, and are interviewed 2 weeks to 6 months later. At that time the contestants say how happy they are in their new home. They point out its positive virtues and what they have done to decorate their place to make it their home. No mention is made of any fatal reason.

Artificial neural networks share the human tendency to seek consonance and avoid dissonance. This characteristic is a major reason why neural network simulations are able to represent psychological phenomena so well and why they should become a major research tool in future.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy coverRead more from Warren Tryon on SciTech Connect:

Warren’s book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is available for purchase on the Elsevier Store. Use discount code “STC215” at checkout and save up to 30% on your very own copy.

About the Author

Warren ComputerWarren W. Tryon received his undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University in 1966. He was enrolled in the APA approved Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University from 1966 – 1970. Upon graduation from Kent State, Dr. Tryon joined the Psychology Department faculty at Fordham University in 1970 as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to Full Professor in 1983. Licensed as a psychologist in New York State in 1973, he joined the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology in 1976, became a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in 1984, was promoted to Fellow of Division 12 (Clinical) of the American Psychological Association in 1994 and a fellow of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology in 1996. Also in 1996 he became a Founder of the Assembly of Behavior Analysis and Therapy.

In 2003 he joined The Academy of Clinical Psychology. He was Director of Clinical Psychology Training from 1997 to 2003, and presently is in the third and final year of phased retirement. He will become Emeritus Professor of Psychology in May 2015 after 45 years of service to Fordham University. Dr. Tryon has published 179 titles, including 3 books, 22 chapters, and 140 articles in peer reviewed journals covering statistics, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. He has reviewed manuscripts for 45 journals and book publishers and has authored 145 papers/posters that were presented at major scientific meetings. Dr. Tryon has mentored 87 doctoral dissertations to completion. This is a record number of completed dissertations at the Fordham University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and likely elsewhere.

His academic lineage is as follows. His mentor was V. Edwin Bixenstein who studied with O. Hobart Mowrer at the University of Illinois who studied with Knight Dunlap at Johns Hopkins University who studied with Hugo Munsterberg at Harvard University who studied with Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is Dr. Tryon’s capstone publication. It is the product of more than a quarter of a century of scholarship. Additional material added after this book was printed is available at www.fordham.edu/psychology/tryon. This includes chapter supplements, a color version of Figure 5.6, and a thirteenth “Final Evaluation” chapter. He is on LinkedIn and Facebook. His email address is wtryon@fordham.edu.

This blog and all others by Dr. Warren Tryon can be found on his Fordham faculty webpage.

References

  1. Abelson, R. P., Aronson, E., McGuire, W. J., Newcomb, T. M., Rosenberg, M. J., & Tannenbaum, P. H. (Eds.) (1968), Theories of cognitive consistency: A sourcebook. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.
  2. Bastardi, A., Uhlmann, E. L., & Ross, L. (2011). Wishful thinking: Belief, desire, and the motivated evaluation of scientific evidence. Psychological Science, 22, 731-732. Doi 10.1177/0956797611406447
  3. Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  4. Festinger, L. (1964). Conflict, decision, and dissonance. Stanford: CA: Stanford University Press.
  5. Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. NY: Wiley.

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