Cognitive Dissonance And The Theory Of Planned Behaviour Psychology Essay

Compare and contrast the conceptualization and use of attitude as a construct in the Cognitive Dissonance Theory to another psychological theory that also includes attitude as a construct (for example, the Theory of Planned Behaviour or the Theory of Reasoned Action). How is attitude the same and different in these two theories? Answer this question in terms of conceptualization, definition, position in the theoretical framework, and in any other manner you see relevant to your paper. Use published work and examples to illustrate your position.

Gordon Allport (1935) stated, “Attitude is the single most indispensible construct in social psychology”. He suggested that the study of attitude could be considered the meeting ground for the social, personal and cultural phenomena. Attitudes are commonly viewed as evaluations of objects (people, behaviours etc) ranging from positive to negative. Rosenberg and Hovland (1960) advocate a three-component model of attitude, suggesting that affect, cognition and behaviour are all mildly correlated structural components of the concept. Attitude is defined in a number of ways. According to Allport (1935) “An attitude is a mental and neural state of readiness organized through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individuals response to all objects and situations to which it is related”(p. 810). Whereas Katz and Stotland (1959) state “An attitude is a tendancy or disposition to evaluate an object or the symbol of that object in a certain way” (p.428)

Attitude is a hypothetical construct inferred from observations or verbalisations (behavior). Its influence exerts across many domains. While it would be impossible to discuss its influence fully here, Hogg and Vaughan (1995) succinctly describe the importance of the concept:

aˆ¦ Attitudes are basic and pervasive in human lifeaˆ¦ without the concept of attitude, we would have difficulty construing and reacting to events, trying to make decisions and making sense of our relationships with people in everyday lifeaˆ¦” (p.149)

As with many of the popular topics in social psychology, operation of the concept is contrasted within the various theories. To highlight this divergence, cognitive dissonance theory and the theory of planned behaviour shall be discussed in relation to attitude. For the purpose of clarity, this essay shall refer to research in just one topic area – smoking cessation.

Both Cognitive Dissonance Theory and The Theory of Planned Behaviour are motivational theories. During 1950s, Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance was most influential in its conceptualization of attitude (Davey, 2005). Desire for internal consistency is a basic human drive (just like hunger or thirst). Internal consistency is not always possible as individuals often hold contrasting cognitions. In this theory cognitions are defined as elements or knowledge’s comprised of beliefs, opinions and attitudes. Elements may be either relevant or irrelevant to each other; those that are relevant have either a consonant or a dissonant relationship. According to the theory, dissonance occurs when the obverse of one element follows from another. Put simply, two incompatible cognitions (e.g. I smoke and smoking causes cancer) will lead to unpleasant, inconsistent drive state known as dissonance.

The magnitude of dissonance is dependent on the importance and the number of dissonant elements. So for example, continuing to smoke regardless of the health risk (importance) and countless media campaigns (number) would create dissonance. Dissonance is also influenced by the importance of the decision, the attractiveness of the un-chosen option and the similarity between the elements. Elements of great importance that are very attractive, with few overlapping similarities create greatest dissonance. Just as with hunger, an individual experiencing dissonance will strive to reduce discomfort. Changing a behavioural cognitive element (quit smoking), an environmental cognitive element (switching to lighter brands) or adding a new cognitive element (reading material which supports smoking e.g. advertisements from cigarette companies) can reduce dissonance (Insko, 1967).

In Festinger’s theory, attitude is perceived to have at least some influence on behaviour, but more so under controlled conditions (De Fleur, 1958). In one notable experiment, Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) offered participants a $1 or a $20 reward to inform waiting participants that a dull experiment was actually exciting. Those in the $1 condition actually reported a more favourable attitude to the dull experiment. Festinger theorized that the result was due to greater dissonance experienced by participants in the $1 condition. Participants in the $20 condition could justify their behaviour by means of the reward. $1 is a miniscule reward offering no cognitive explanation of counter-attitudinal behaviour. Dissonance then was reduced by means of attitude change. This aspect of cognitive dissonance theory is unique, as most other theories predict attitude change occurs with increased incentive (conditioning and reinforcement theories). These findings also contribute greatly to our understanding of attitude discrepant behaviour and the phenomenon of self-persuasion. With relation to work on smoking cessation, Mann (1967) found that role-playing a lung cancer patient produced attitude change and also a reduction in smoking among participants. Simon et al. (1995) noted that most dissonance research has focused on attitude change as the dominant means of dissonance reduction.

La Pierre (1934) however suggested that attitude is far more complex then suggested by Festinger’s work. During a period of heightened racial prejudice he conducted a questionnaire study of hotelier’s attitudes. It found that almost all of the responding hotels would not accommodate a Chinese couple. Yet when the three of them traveled around the US for over 2 years, they were refused admission only once! While there are methodological limitations to this study that shall not be fully discussed here, it still concisely illustrates the sizeable gap between attitude and actual overt behaviour.

Following on from this, Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) developed a theory of reasoned action (and later the more advanced theory of planned behavior) arguing that specific behaviour cannot be predicted from general attitudes. In the theory of planned behaviour, attitude toward an object is suggested to intertwine with subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. These are antecedents to behavioural intent, which is an immediate antecedent of behaviour (Ajzen, 2002). Attitude is conceptualized here as the summary of an individual’s beliefs about an object. Ajzen defines beliefs as probable characteristics of an object. These behavioural beliefs make a cognitive link between a particular behaviour and an expected outcome. So in the smoking cessation example, believing cigarettes cause cancer, are unattractive and smell disgusting etc. will probably lead to an anti-smoking attitude. The norms generated by say the smoking ban; along with the volitional aspect of smoking also contribute to smoking behaviour. This theory acknowledges to a much greater extent the complex relationship between attitude and behaviour by including more behavioural determinants. Norman (1999) for instance, concluded that for an individual to quit smoking, they must believe quitting is good for their well being, possible, worthwhile and also achievable.

Both theories have undoubtedly furthered our understanding of the concept of attitude, but there are still important limitations. In the theory of planned behaviour for example, literature reviews have shown in some cases no role of subjective norms, no predictive role for perceived behavioral control or no role for attitudes Ogden (2003). Fishbein and Ajzen (2004) responded by stating that the role of attitudes, subjective norms, and perceptions of behavioral control is expected to vary between behaviors and populations. They also posit that attitudes and behavior each have four elements: action (quit smoking), target (no longer being addicted), context (no longer smoke around children), and time (quit within the year) (Ajzen & fishbein, 1977). When elements show correspondence, attitude acts as an antecedent of intention. Thus existing general attitude scales give us poor insight to actual predictors of intent, and even when we can measure attitude its affect varies by ‘population and behaviour’.

Both theories also overlook many moderators of attitude. For example additional variables have been found to increase the attitude-behavior correlation. These include: economic variables in farming behaviour (Lynne & Rola, 1988), moral values in condom use (Boyd & Wandersman, 1991), friends intentions in academic achievement (Carpenter & Fleishman, 1987), orgin and accessibility (Regan and Fazio, 1977), to name but a few. Many of these theories also do not account for individual differences. De Bono and Snyder (1995) for example, found that some people are guided by their internal attitudes (low self-monitors), while others behave in line with those around them (high self-monitors). They suggest that attitudes better predicts behaviour for low self-monitors. Miller & Grush (1986) found that individuals higher on private self-conscious (a dispositional awareness of internal thoughts and feelings) were more influenced by attitude.

In a recent study children and monkeys were forced to choose between two equally attractive rewards (stickers and M&Ms). Researchers found that evaluation of the alternative to the choice was reduced. Thus while cognitive dissonance theory may not fully elaborate on the complexity of attitude, it does still offer explanation of instinctual drives (Egan, 2007). Theories such as planned behaviour elaborate on this instinctual understanding by examining attitude in relation to other behavioural determinants. Biedsoe (2003) found that attitude and subjective norm mediated by intention predicted stages of behavioural change. Biedsoe goes on to suggest that rather then criticize existing models we should focus on development of a more in-depth understandings of theoretical components and moderators. De Leeuw (2008) for example, differentiated the role of attitude in both theories discussed in this paper. She concluded that attitude is seen as a precusor of behaviour in the theory of planned behaviour, whereas it is more a predictor of behaviour in cognitive dissonance theory. Demarcation of the intricacies of attitude such as this may lead to a greater understanding of the concept of attitude and its influence on behaviour.