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Melisa Pazalja

COMM 2050-401
April 14, 2017

Communication Crash & Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Introduction:
In this paper, I will analyze a personal experience and how Cognitive
Dissonance Theory played a role in it. I will describe the conflict, define the
theory, analyze the conflict using the theory, provide recommendations and
suggestions using the theory, and conclude what I learned from this theory.

Description of Conflict:
Since I was 15 years old, I have worked as a hostess at the Market Street Grill
in Downtown Salt Lake City. The biggest problem that the restaurant faced
was the homeless community in front of the restaurant. They were
aggressive and persistent, and would scare away the customers. Society has
created an assumption that all homeless people and panhandlers are lazy
and on drugs. The human brain is wired to function best in a logical, orderly
way. We act and feel our best when our inside world of thinking and feeling is
consistent with the external world in which we live (Sannicandro, 2014).

While working at Market Street Grill, we were told to always notify the
mangers if the homeless people entered the restaurant. Most of the time,
they would solicit and bother the customers that were walking in. During my
shift one day, I had a homeless man walk in and ask for a glass of water. He
was an older gentleman in his late 60s. As soon as my manager saw him, he
rushed over and kicked the homeless man out. This broke my heart to watch
him get kicked out after asking for a glass of water. I experienced Cognitive
Dissonance, in a way, Ill never forget.

The homeless man had the same facial features as my grandpa, which
instantly, made me feel that much worse. I couldnt help but think of him. I
wanted to give him a glass of
water. In my head, I knew that this man was possibly a drug user and that I
should not help him, but I wanted to. This entire situation made me feel
uncomfortable and caused an imbalance of my cognitions. I have learned
that people view the homeless people as a menace to society. We perceive
them asking for money as socially unacceptable behavior.

Theory Summary and Author Background:


Leon Festinger developed cognitive dissonance theory after rumors following
an earthquake in India in 1934. This theory was molded in early 1950s.
Festinger learned that Indian earthquake victims were terrified that a much
bigger earthquake was coming, despite evidence to the contrary, Festinger
believed that people bought these rumors because they served to justify fear

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that was already present (Good Therapy, 2015). The theory suggested that
inconsistencies among cognitions (knowledge, opinion, or belief about the
environment, oneself, or ones behavior) generate an uncomfortable
motivating feeling (the cognitive dissonance state). According to the theory,
people feel uncomfortable when they experience cognitive dissonance and
thus are motivated to retrieve an acceptable state. The magnitude of
existing dissonance depends on the importance and strength of the involved
cognitions. Experiencing a higher level of dissonance causes pressure and
motivation to reduce the dissonance. Findings from several studies show that
dissonance occurs when people do not act in accordance with their act
(Vaidis, 2017).

The theory is built upon the notion that individuals strive toward consistency.
If there are inconsistencies, they try to rationalize them to reduce
psychological discomfort. Festinger uses the term consonance in terms of
consistency and uses the term dissonance in terms of inconsistency
(Metin & Camgoz, 2011).

Cognitive Dissonance Theory is based on four assumptions:


Human beings desire consistency in their beliefs, attitudes and
behaviors.
Dissonance is created by psychological inconsistencies.
Dissonance is an aversive state that drives people to actions with
measureable effects.
Dissonance motivates efforts to achieve consonance and efforts toward
dissonance reduction (West & Turner, 2010, page 115).

Most people strive to be good people. We struggle when our actions


contradict our beliefs. Leon Festinger explains this feeling as the feeling
people have when they find themselves doing things that dont fit with what
they know, or having opinions that dont fit with other opinions they hold
(West & Turner, 2010, page 113).

Analysis of Conflict using the Theory:


I would walk by homeless people all the time when I was working at Market
Street Grill. I never thought about giving them spare change because I knew
most of them would spend it on drugs. This all changed after I saw that
homeless mans face when he asked for a glass of water. I wanted to go back
and find him. I wanted to give him a glass of water and spare change to eat. I
tried to comfort myself by telling myself that he probably would spend any
spare change on drugs, but I felt so guilty about not being able to grab him a
glass of water.

Because I grew up in a war torn country with a high poverty rate, it was
important to me to always help people in need, this includes the homeless

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community. I experienced a magnitude of dissonance after not being able
to help the homeless man. Being kind and giving was a huge part of my
identity and I questioned myself after that incident. I thought about how I
could reduce the dissonance and I wanted to change my behavior and
attitude towards the homeless people. By changing my attitude, I decided
that I would volunteer on Sundays and pass out waters and pizza at the
Pioneer Park in Downtown Salt Lake City. Along with a group of my friends,
we spent 2-3 hours on Sundays passing out waters and food. We also spent
hours visiting businesses that were willing to donate food, clothes, money
that would benefit the homeless community. I spent hours talking to the
homeless people and finding out how they got in the position they were in. I
found out, many of them suffer from mental illnesses. It was a huge eye
opening experience. By volunteering and spending time getting to know
some of them, helped me reduce the dissonance I had been feeling.

Theory Recommendations:
The conflict could have been avoided if I spoke up and told my manager that
the homeless man was just asking for a glass of water. Because I knew my
manager had a different view of the homeless community, I did not speak
up. Cognitive Dissonance Theory made me realize how unjust our society is. I
would use it to explain to people that just because society views something
as unjust, it does not mean that we all need to feel that way. Its very
important to confront your cognitive dissonance and make it a learning
experience, as I have.

Conclusion:
Of all theories in social psychology, perhaps none is more widely celebrated
than the theory of cognitive dissonance (Wakslak, 2012). This theory lets us
know that something is wrong or missing in our cognitions and helps us
move to a state of consonance. It has generated hundreds and hundreds of
studies, from which much has been learned about the determinants of
attitudes and beliefs, the internalization of values, the consequences of
decisions, the effects of disagreement among persons, and other important
psychological processes (Harmon-Jones & Mills, 1999). This theory has
taught me that we should show compassion to the homeless community. It
has also taught me that facing the realization of the society we live in is very
important for self-actualization by being more empathetic and
understanding other people. According to Dr. Maslow, knowledge of oneself
is not only a path to better individual value choices, but self-actualization
also leads to knowledge of universal human nature. My analysis in this
theory has taught me that cognitive dissonance needs to be understood in
order to be applied. By seeking selective exposure, we can reduce our
dissonance and change our attitudes and beliefs as accordingly.

References:

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