The effects of cognitive dissonance on abstract thinking: Dissonance leads to an abstract mindset
2016 (English)Conference paper, Poster (Other academic)
In this study, we investigated how individuals’ abstract thinking increases when experiencing dissonance. Dissonance theory holds that people reduce dissonance by accommodating their attitudes in order to fit their most recent behavior. This process resembles the reasoning of action-identification theory (AIT), which postulates that people usually try to understand their actions in a meaningful and coherent way, and also that actions can take on new meanings when people move from a low-level to a high-level understanding of the action. Thus, acting inconsistently threatens the coherent understanding of ones action; and in order to regain a sense of consonance, people will try to find a new meaning of their action (e.g., via attitude change). However, this occurs when moving to a high-level understanding (i.e., thinking more abstractly) of ones action. However, the effect of dissonance on abstraction should be stronger for individuals with low level of abstraction to begin with – since AIT holds that people who naturally tend to think abstractly already have high-level understandings of their actions. We predicted that: (1) dissonance puts people in a more abstract mindset, and (2) this effect will be more apparent for individuals low in abstraction. First, we established participants’ natural tendencies to abstract thinking with the Gestalt Completion Test (GCT). This variable was later split into low and high GCT. Several days later, we employed the induced compliance paradigm, in which participants were asked to write a counter-attitudinal essay under either low choice or high choice. High-choice participants usually experience more dissonance. We also created a neutral condition (to serve as a comparison to the other conditions) in which individuals were asked to write a pro-attitudinal essay. After the induced compliance manipulation, the Behavior Identification Form (BIF) was used to measure abstraction. The sample consisted of 125 non-psychology students. A 3 (condition: high-choice vs. low-choice vs. neutral) ˙ 2 (GCT: low vs. high) between subjects factorial ANOVA showed that participants in the high-choice condition (who experienced more dissonance) did exhibit a more abstract mindset, and level of GCT moderated this effect. The following simple effects analysis showed a significant effect for the low-GCT groups: (F(2, 119) = 6.607, p = .002, η2 = .100) and the pairwise comparisons revealed that high-choice participants exhibited a significantly more abstract mindset (M = 16.65, SD = 4.54) compared to both the low-choice participants (M = 13.18, SD = 4.45) p = .013, d = .77 and the neutral participants (M = 12.25, SD = 4.71) p < .001, d = .95. No significant effects were found when comparing the high-GCT groups (p = .398). The present study demonstrated that dissonance activates abstract thinking, which is thought to facilitate people’s understanding their recent actions. This finding has important implication for the future study of consequences of cognitive conflicts, and also the study of how abstraction enables people to find new meanings of their own actions. Hence, investigation on these mechanisms could shed more light on how people regulate their thoughts, emotions and behavior in real time.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
cognitive dissonance, abstraction
Research subject Psychology
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-141014OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-141014DiVA: diva2:1085218
17th Annual Convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, San Diego, USA, January 28-30, 2016.