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To Practice What We Preach: The Use of Hypocrisy and Cognitive Dissonance to Motivate Behavior Change



When people fail to practice what they preach, their act of hypocrisy can induce cognitive dissonance and the motivation to change their behavior. The current paper examines the evidence for this assumption by reviewing and analyzing the research that has used the hypocrisy procedure to influence the performance of pro-social behaviors related to health, the environment, and interpersonal relations. The first section looks at the evidence for the claim that hypocrisy motivates behavior change as opposed to other forms of dissonance reduction such as attitude change. We then review studies that suggest that the induction of hypocrisy exerts its greatest effect on behavior change when people publicly advocate the importance of the target course of action and are then privately reminded of their own recent personal failures to perform the target behavior. A third section discusses the limitations to the current body of work and important directions for future research. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion of how the hypocrisy procedure relates to other contemporary models of behavior change.