Get access

How to Study Choice-Induced Attitude Change: Strategies for Fixing the Free-Choice Paradigm



The theory of cognitive dissonance has been among the most influential theories in social psychology for the last 50 years. Support for the theory has come primarily from three experimental paradigms: free-choice, induced compliance, and effort justification. Recently, Chen and Risen (2010, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 573–594) have argued that although the free-choice paradigm reliably finds a ‘spreading of alternatives’ (i.e., after making a choice, participants’ evaluations of the chosen item improve and evaluations of the rejected item decline), these results cannot be interpreted as evidence for dissonance reduction or attitude change. Unlike the other dissonance paradigms, participants ‘self-select’ how they are treated in the free-choice paradigm, making it impossible to know whether spreading is because of the choice process or the information that is revealed about participants’ existing preferences. The current paper has two goals. First, we will describe the criticism developed by Chen and Risen (2010) and situate the criticism within the broader study of dissonance. Second, we will offer four suggestions for how researchers can isolate the effect of the choice process and properly test for choice-induced attitude change in the free-choice paradigm.