Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory hypothesizes that there is a motivational drive within everyone to reduce inconsistent thoughts and actions in our lives; to create a sense of stability and predictability for the outcomes of decisions. This theory in its most basic sense is a pro/con list with each variable holding more or less weight. So, while the con or “dissonant” list may be in larger proportion to the pro or “consonant” list, the idea may still be in harmony with the action of the consonant variables are considered more important to the outcome.
For example, going to a movie in the theater has always been a difficult decision. There are many factors in whether or not the ends will justify the means. Let us delve into the depths of my mind to see what consonant and dissonant ideas there are.
Cognitions about going to see the Evil Dead movie in the theater:
C1) I want to see the movie
C2) It is something my boyfriend and I can do together
C3) I liked the original movies
C4) Theater screens and speaker system is better than my home theater (barely)
C5) I won’t have to make my own popcorn
D1) The theater is expensive
D2) The theater is crowded
D3) What if this is all just a big ploy to use the good name of Evil Dead to waste my time on a run-of-the-mill horror movie
D4) No Bruce Campbell
D5) Theater seating is uncomfortable
So far, it looks like a pretty even race, until you take into the importance of each variable. I consider D3 to be a pretty generalized statement to all advertising attempts, so its value is almost neutral. As opposed to D1 and D5, which I consider a great disposition and inconvenience. The number of harmonizing and inconsistent thoughts may be the same, but the dissonant variables are of greater importance.
In order to eliminate the quandary, I must decide to not go to the movie. But what if one of the variables changed? One of my cognitions could change with the addition of new information. For example, it turns out Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi were very involved in the making. This would change the weight of D3. Or, a new cognition may enter the mix. My boyfriend may be chivalrous and decide to pay for my ticket in order to turn it into a date night. Now, the consonant ideas have more weight. But, I could reduce the importance of one of my cognitions in order to make a decision that I will feel good about.
Let’s say that even with the new mix of ideas, I decide my house is where I want to be and wait until I can watch the movie in the comfort of my couch because, even though there are now 5 points on the consonant category and only 4 in the dissonant category, the points in the dissonant category are weighed heavier in my mind. Good, everything is in harmony and I can feel good about this decision.
There are many other areas of dissonance concerns under Festinger’s theory that I will briefly touch on. Dissonance after decision-making says if after the movie is released it gets great reviews and my boyfriend is upset with me that we didn’t get to see it opening night, I may feel I’ve made the wrong decision. I could cope through lessening the severity of the decision by telling him that we can watch it immediately and it will be the same. Or I could lessen the importance of the decision by telling him that it’s just a stupid movie and to get over it. This would limit the post-decisional dissonance (regret) to a minimum.
Selective exposure explains how, having made my decision not to see the movie, I will now avoid consuming any more advertising on this subject because I wish to avoid any more dissonance on the subject.
Forced compliance postulates that I could convince myself to leave my house and participate in the inconsistent cognition if I can justify the experience. As in the thought, “I may not have as good of a time in the theater, but I’m being a good girlfriend so it’s worth it.”
In all, I feel that I will wait until the movie comes out on DVD to watch it in my house. Then I can discuss the quality freely without annoying theater patrons, in my pajamas, possibly drunk…