Classics in the History of Psychology — Festinger & Carlsmith (1959)
Here is the fulltext of Leon Festinger & James M. Carlsmith’s original paper, published in 1959, on the experiment that supported the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, first proposed by Festinger in 1957. Fascinating methodology here. Unlike most theories of intrapersonal communication, this theory takes true human nature into account, so it is a personal favorite of mine to discuss, and I have a lot of ideas and related literature to this theory that I enjoy running with.
So what does cognitive dissonance mean? See. When our actions comes into conflict with our beliefs, the most uncomfortable feeling of dissonance motivates us to reduce it by conforming our beliefs, attitudes, and opinions to our actions. The desire to conform our beliefs to our actions is driven by our need for cognitive consistency. Cognitive dissonance occurs in situations where the individual must choose between two incompatible beliefs or actions. Dissonance is often great when the two alternatives are both equally attractive.
Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance is actually, to me, a solipsism in reverse.
The act of solipsism conforms reality to our perceptions; in reverse, the response to cognitive dissonance is to modify our own beliefs to match reality. This modification is passive.
This modification happens in three ways: first, by reducing the importance of dissonant beliefs; second, by adding more consonant beliefs that outnumber/outweigh the dissonance; third, by completely changing the dissonant belief so that they are no longer inconsistent.
Albert Camus writes of the suicide of thought in the Myth of Sisyphus.
Just as cognitive dissonance results from a contrast between circumstances believed to be so versus the actual circumstances, The Absurd is pregnant with the contrast in perception and reality.
The logic of the utilitarian dictates that an abdication of life is the most appropriate choice to Absurdity: suicide.
“Others, princes of the mind, abdicated likewise but they initiated the suicide of their thought in its purest revolt.”
These princes of the mind seek escape through some hope, to persuade themselves that the circumstances are far less absurd than what they seem.
It is in this 3rd method of obliterating dissonance that Camus equates with intellectual suicide.
Faced with the choice of altering either their behavior or opinions, most individuals simply choose the ease of changing their minds.