Where is the “D” in dissonance?1


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    This study was supported by a grant from the Rutgers University Research Council to the first author


The experiment tested the hypothesis that cognitive dissonance has a general drive arousal component which facilitates performance on simple cognitive tasks and impairs performance on complex cognitive tasks After writing a consonant or a dissonant essay dealing with proposed changes in university parking regulations, subjects were given either a simple or a complex task (rote memory or creativity). To maximize dissonance, free choice regarding participation was deliberately emphasized, resulting in a high proportion of subjects who refused to comply with the request Data from refusers were retained and compared with data obtained from compliers Appropriate control groups were employed in order to ascertain whether the results were attributable to the process of self-selection among complier and refuser subjects

The dissonance manipulation was successful subjects who wrote dissonant essays subsequently displayed more favorable attitudes toward the parking proposal Their performance on complex cognitive tasks was not unpaired, however, nor did they perform better on simple cognitive tasks than did subjects who experienced no dissonance Subjects who refused to write dissonant essays did better on the complex task than subjects who complied in either the consonant or dissonant conditions Data from the control groups indicated that refusers did not differ from compliers in their initial attitudes toward the proposal nor in their ability to perform the complex cognitive task The results seem to be due to the facilitating effects of refusing to comply with the dissonance instructions, and suggest that the practice of eliminating subjects who refuse to comply may result in the loss of some highly informative data