30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
Festinger’s boring task
Decision Making & Emotions
If you believe one thing, yet do or say another, what happens psychologically? In the absence of any external justification for the anomalous behaviour, the contradiction is resolved by altering your original belief. The American psychologist Leon Festinger showed this with James Carlsmith in a classic study in 1959, known as ’the boring task’. Having performed an hour-long monotonous task involving pegs on a board, students were paid either one dollar or twenty dollars to convince another person that the task was fun and interesting. Afterwards, the students were asked by a researcher what they really thought of the boring task: those paid just one dollar said that they had found the task enjoyable whereas the students paid twenty dollars said that it was in truth terribly dull. Festinger’s interpretation was that the students’ belief that the task was dull clashed with the fact that they’d just told someone else it was fun, thus causing uncomfortable ’cognitive dissonance’. For the students who had been paid twenty dollars, this contradiction was easily resolved — they’d been paid a fair sum and that’s why they’d lied. For the students who had been paid just one dollar, however, the contradiction was more easily resolved by altering their original belief.
Whenever a pair of incompatible beliefs or decisions collide in our minds, it provokes a kind of mental discomfort known as ’cognitive dissonance’.
It’s not just us humans who experience cognitive dissonance — monkeys do, too. Louisa Egan and her colleagues at Yale University showed this in a 2007 study in which they offered capuchin monkeys the choice between pairs of differently coloured, yet equally appealing sweets. After turning down a given colour in one pair, a monkey made subsequent choices that showed it had devalued that rejected colour in its mind, thereby justifying the earlier arbitrary preference.
WASON’S CONFIRMATION BIAS
THE LAKE WOBEGON EFFECT
Just tell yourself that putting pegs in a board all day is a whole lot of fun and you’ll start to believe it.