Analysis Of Cognitive Dissonance Theories

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Over the years, there have been many unique types of psychological theories that have been created by people that can be applied to the public services. In terms of the form of psychology that I have chosen to look at in this report, I have chosen to focus on social psychology. I could have selected to look at and undertake other types of psychology such as developmental and also biology and behaviour. However, in this report, I will be basing my focus on social psychology. Alongside with social psychology, I will also look to include the personality theory by Freud et al (1923) in certain points and other different theories. In regards to the said theories I will be looking at in this report, I will be looking at different social psychological theories such as the Self-Perception Theory by Bem et al (1972) as well as the Cognitive Dissonance Theory by Festinger et al (1957). I will be discussing these theories primarily in the main body and findings of this report where I will talk a little about the backgrounds of these chosen theories that I have selected and then go into further detail and analyse how these theories relate to the public services. By the end of this report then, I will look to make a decision on just how much social psychology as a whole applies to the public services. In terms of social psychology and its background, according to SimplyPsychology, social psychology is all about understanding the behaviour of individuals in a social context. In Baron, Byrne and Suls et al (1989), they all describe social psychology as the area of science that looks to understand both the nature causes of different people’s behaviour in different social situations. Overall, then, we are then able to assume that social psychology therefore looks at human behaviour and how it can be influenced. Below is a list of both objectives that I have chosen which I hope to have achieved by the end of this report and also a list of scopes which are things that I will not be mentioning during this report.


  • Identify how social psychology relates to behavioural dynamics
  • Make a conclusion on how much social psychologies theories applies to the public services


  • Look at how developmental psychology relates to behavioural dynamics and the public services
  • Look at how Biology and Behaviour relate to behavioural dynamics and the public services

Main body – Theories and how they relate to behavioural dynamics

This is the main body of my report. In this section, this will be where I talk about different type of social psychology theories where I will talk a little bit about the actual theory itself and then go into further detail and depth where I will analyse how the particular theory relates to behavioural dynamics in a public service context for the purpose of this report.

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Self-Perception Theory (Bem)

The first theory that I will be talking about in this report is the Self-Perception Theory by Bem et al (1972). According to learning theories, Bem designed this particular theory of personality development in the late 1960s through to the early 1970s. In terms of a quick summary as to what this theory is, again according to learning theories, it is a theory that describes the process in which people who are lacking personalities or responses, eventually develop them by observing their own behaviour and as a result, coming to a decision as to what certain type of attitudes created that particular type of behaviour. In terms of the experiment that Bem conducted to support this theory, he involved groups of participants who were asked to listen to a recording of a person who was describing a task rather eagerly. One of the groups were told that the person was paid $1 for the job while the other were told they were paid $20 for it. The group who were told he was paid less for it believed he enjoyed the task more than the group who were told he was paid for more for it. The two groups’ conclusion linked to the feelings that they expressed and due to this, the participants were then able to correctly guess how they felt at the time of the task and concluded that they must have arrived at the way they felt they were. This is because as well as his, they were observing their own behaviour as well. Learning theories also further down informs us, that since then, a number of different studies have been conducted which confirm that that the self-perception theory still exists and furthermore, it unknowingly influences us in many situations. In regards to the statement on the front page of the article however, an extract from a book by the name of Developmental Behavioural Paediatrics (2008), it talks about a particular method by the name of Motivational Interviewing. This particular method includes the theory. Further down the extract it talks about the methods effectiveness where it talks about evidence to back up how useful it has been in regards to youngsters who are in the areas of risky behaviour, program retention and also substance abuse.

In terms of how this applies to the public services, substance abuse for example, is a major problem nowadays that causes all sorts of problems as well as the example of risky behaviour such as anti-social behaviour which is a daily problem that the police in particular have to deal with. Program retention is also another good example to use for the police as through using the method of motivational interviewing and ultimately the self-perception theory, it allows the police to encourage all ages of people who may also be at risk of examples as mentioned above to change their lives for the better and join the police force as one option.

Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory

In addition to the self-perception theory, the next theory that I will be talking about in this report is the cognitive dissonance theory by Festinger et al (1957). In terms of the background of this theory, the cognitive dissonance theory according to learning theories once again, refers to an overpowering feeling that occurs when there is conflict between a person’s belief and their behaviour. As a result of this said feeling, it causes us to have high levels of motivation to get rid of the feeling. However, as a result of using this to reduce the impact of dissonance, it may cause that person to commit acts of either irrational or even dangerous behaviour. Learning theories also notes further down, that dissonance can also happen whilst we are observing others when people do not behave as we expect them to. In regards to experiments that were conducted for the cognitive dissonance theory, Festinger put together two groups and paid one group more than the other. The participants were then asked to perform a task and then after they had finished, they had to tell the participant after them how interesting they found the task. The participants who received the larger amount of money for participating in the experiment rated the experiment as rather boring whilst the participants who were paid a smaller sum of money for the experiment rated the experiment as more interesting. The differences between the two groups can be explained by the theory. Those who were paid the larger amount of money experienced less dissonance whilst lying about the task as they had a good enough reason to do so, due to the money that they were receiving. However, as for the group of participants who received less money than the others, participants had to explain to themselves why they had gone through with all of it for only a small amount of money. As a result of this and dissonance, the participants changed their beliefs and managed to convince themselves that the task they were paid to partake in, was more interesting than it actually was.

In terms of how this theory relates to the public services, the theory shows us that the experiments that were used to support the theory included the idea of being forced to do something that you do not believe in or think is true. An example of this is provided by learning theories where they talk about Nazi Germany and how many people were forced to change their life styles and behaviour despite it being against their wishes. However, how this relates to the public services is that the cognitive dissonance theory is used to try to help promote positive rather than negative behaviour as shown in the previously mentioned experiment where the participants responded by saying that that they found the task more interesting despite that not being their true feelings thus producing more positive rather than negative emotions. Of course, if this theory is designed to try to cause people to be more positive than negative, it applies to all areas of the public services because as a result of this, it could result in much less crimes such as anti-social behaviour once again that will involve the police for example. Learning theories also talks about how the self-perception theory has allowed teenagers to change the stereotypical image that is projected upon them. Due to the work of this theory, this means that they are then less likely to be involved or engage in dangerous situations that may require the public services.

Freud’s psychodynamic approach to personality

Sigmund Freud’s personality theory also can be mentioned briefly here. In the article, ego state personality (Spring 2011) by Gordon Emmerson. In an extract from the article, Emmerson explains how people with an ego state mind differ in levels of confidence and feelings. They also talk about how when someone finds a coping mechanism that they feel suits them, they tend to return to that over and over again. As for how this relates to the public services, an example of a coping mechanism for someone could be alcoholism, drug addiction or substance abuse or certain types of aggressive behaviour which affect the public services constantly.


My final conclusion on this report though however, is that social psychology as a whole does apply and relate to the public services a good amount as theories that have been created by the likes of Bem et al (1972) and Festinger et al (1957), explain how behaviour is influenced and how their theories are only shown to be more credible as they are backed up by scientific discoveries and research according to learning theories that allow us to see that even today these theories still apply to us despite it being many years since the theories were put into place and the experiments were conducted. Both the self-perception theory and also the cognitive dissonance theory explain how certain types of people can be led to commit certain types of behaviour which then allows us to make the assumption that said types of behaviour can then affect all areas of public services.  


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