How do we change our minds?
Elizabeth Gilley, 2015
What accounts for changes in attitudes and dispositions which guide behavior? Under the perspective framework of evolving Cognitive Behavioral Theory, we understand that both internal and external stimuli effect response patterns. Other psychological perspectives, may consider other interpersonal variables, such as the body-mind intelligence, including past experiential training history and conditioning, as well as Humanistic, Transpersonal and Integral psychological self-perceptual concepts, which can encompass an enlargement (rather than a diminishing ) of perspective, reevaluation of changing need, circumstance, and more positive self-efficacious motivational factors. In the evolving study of social psychology, both internal and external, intrapersonal and interpersonal variables, are considered.
Social psychologists have always been interested in determining what accounts for an individual’s cognitions, attitude and emotions, reasoning, judgements, and behaviors, including the situational, as well as the collective influence of culture and society upon the individual. For if we can understand these, then perhaps, in turn, we can induce change, for a variety of purposes ranging from control of the masses, in relation to limited resources, commercial marketing and economic advancement and hopefully, perhaps, also, the altruistic, advancement of the human race. Certainly, there are occasions that merit our effort to predict behavior in regards to survival and self-defense.
A good predictor of behavior, is past behavior. However, there are many determinants of behavior, each powerful in their own right, influenced by situational variables. In 1957, Leon Festinger, inspired by previous research on social comparisons and moral judgement (Festinger, 1950, 1952), published his cognitive dissonance theory, which attempts to explain what happens when an individual’s cognitions conflict, when thoughts regarding attitudes, beliefs and moral stance and necessary future (or past) action might be incongruent.
While it is generally agreed that thought precedes action, or behavior, some thoughts and cognitions, are the result of actions and behaviors, occurring after the fact. Whether inconsistency exists between our convictions and future or past behavior, we oftentimes, experience the cognitive dissonant mindset. When the phenomenological reality of the situation results in response patterns which are not congruent with either internal and/or external, individual and/or collective influence, Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith (1959) postulate that the result will be a rationalization, a change of attitude within the individual, in order to offset (reduce) the emotional conflict, they term cognitive dissonance. Bem (1967) refers to Festinger’s and Carlsmith’s study as radical behaviorism, zeroing in on the stimulus response proponents of the study.
Festinger and Carlsmith’s theory has spawned more than half a decade of research (Cooper, 1971; Goethals, Cooper, & Naficy, 1979), which more clearly defines conditions which do and do not, produce cognitive dissonance, some of which, not only affirmed this theory through replication, but also enlarged perspective by interjecting secondary levels of influence to be explored in future research (Aronson, 1969; Sherman & Gorkin, 1980; Cohen, Aronson & Steele, 2000; Correll, Spencer & Zanna, 2004; McQueen & Klein, 2006; Sharot, Fleming, Yu, Koster, & Dolan, 2012). It was a wonderful platform upon which to launch future research, as research history has proven (Eibach & Mock, 2011).
In Bem’s (1967) summation of cognitive dissonance theory, he tells us that “If a person holds two cognitions that are inconsistent with one another, he will experience the pressure of an aversive motivational state called cognitive dissonance, a pressure which he will seek to remove ….. by altering one of the two dissonant cognitions.” (p. 1). Interestingly, according to the authors of our text, Social Psychology, Gilovich, Keltner, Chen and Nisbett (2016), tell us that ironically, it is the alternative self-perceptual theory, offered by Bem (1967, 1972), which serves to support the authenticity of Cognitive Dissonance theory.
Bem agrees with the authenticity of cognitive dissonance theory, yet he points out these are not the only variables and/or processes involved in motivation to change attitudes and behaviors. In fact there are times when an individual is not even aware of his motivations. Many actions are instinctual, being initiated beneath the conscious level of awareness through physiological response or repetitive neural patterns. In 2015, we know that automatic neural processes in the subconscious mind can be active, long before the conscious mind is made aware. Research has demonstrated support for the body-mind connection, specifically in the physiological arousal response to cognition (Martinie, Olivier, Milland, Joule & Capa, 2013). However, in 1967 when Bem published his research perspective on self-perception, he opened the door for alternative interpretations and further investigation. Like Festinger and Carlsmith, Bem’s research is also a platform for the evolving future of social psychology.
Indeed, there are times when even the best of us, don’t measure up to our own ideals. There are situations and circumstance in which our thoughts and actions are not in alignment with our higher ideals. When we are confronted with our in-congruency either by internal or external mechanisms, our emotional barometer lets us know. Some will lower their standards, adjust their attitudes, rationalize and justify. While others will step up, admit their error and learn from mistakes, and choose to think and behave in a manner which is in alignment with their higher purpose, which lay at the very heart of modern day self-perception theory. Hopefully we gain perspective, and adapt through the guidance of our moral compass, which in turn, increases our self-esteem and empowers us, rather than diminishing and disempowering us.
In his 1967 publication, Self-Perception: An Alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena, Daryl Bem’s reviews, elaborates and expands upon the forced compliance studies, free choice studies and exposure to information studies of evolving cognitive dissonance theory and research, before offering an alternative interpretation of the process of “inference,” especially in regards to “weak, ambiguous, and uninterpretable” attitudes. In the case scenario, in which an individual is unsecure of the motivation for his or her attitudes, “the individual is functionally in the same position as outside observer” (Bem, 1972, p. 2) who can only infer from the outward manifestations, behavior, what the internal climate may be, assuming attitude, belief, and motivation for behavior. Gilovich, Keltner, Chen and Nisbett (2016) conclude that “Bem reasoned that if the observers come up with the same inferences about attitudes as the attitudes reported by the actual participants, there is no reason to assume participates themselves arrived at their beliefs because they were motivated to reduce dissonance” (p. 252). Essentially Bem asserts that we draw from whatever cues we have available, conscious and subconscious, internal and external to determine how we feel about a situation and our response to this stimulus (Bem, 1972), and opened the theoretical door for us to consider that the outer context of the situation, event or circumstance also effects response patterns.
While Bem’s theory is not fully developed in its original and follow-up presentations, it opens a Pandora’s Box for future psychological perspective which will rise from its proverbial shoulders. Not only will successive behavioral research scientists, consider Bem’s perspective, but future generations of Social, Humanist, Transpersonal and Integral Psychologists, will also build upon what now seems antiquated, simplistic, first psychological century concept (Brown, 2013). According to Gilovich et al, “Self-perception theory may not provide an accurate account of what happens when people behave in a way that challenges their sense of self as a moral and rational person” (2016, p. 255) but it helps to open doors to inspire us to continue the search in more expansive, holistic, multi-dimensional directions.
Obviously both cognitive dissonance and derived inference, from internal and external cues, occur. Both theories are helpful in and of themselves, and for the foundational future, they helped to pioneer. Decades of future researchers, evolve and expand theory, launched from the individual and collective shoulders of Festinger, Carlsmith, and Bem (Wood, 1996; Suls, 2000; Sharot, 2012; Brown, 2013; Cohen, 2000; Freedom, 2001; Correll, 2004; MacDonald, 2009; Martini, 2013; McQueen, 2006; Washburn, 2003). Future applications for cognitive dissonance theory have been developed in both government and private commercial sectors, with the unfortunate emphasis too often being how to condition the public in order to manipulate them. Self-perceptual theory has expanded our frame of reference and opened theoretical doors for inquisitive research minds, which have meandered through the social psychological realm, onto the realms of Humanistic, Transpersonal and Integral Psychologies (Sovatsky, 2009; Washburn, 2003; MacDonald 2009).
Americans believe in The Constitution even though its powers protecting civil liberties, freedoms and certain inalienable rights have been greatly reduced in the name of national security and collective best interests. Our country was built upon the right of freedom to practice religion and the generosity of spirit which embraced refugees in desperate need of a new beginning, the hope that holds humanity together. The original social influence theories of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and their spawn, are still relevant in the twenty-first century’s war on terrorism. While Festinger, Carlsmith and Bem derived theories, in what we may presume, were the more simpler, cultural times of the 1950’s and 1960’s, during the Cold War and the Vietnam War eras, in 2015, our government’s industrial military regime finds itself in circumstance for which we have been preparing, global policing. While we the people are conditioned and saturated with the bombardment of media coverage, with the current threat of the moment, being the Muslim extremist terrorists, I ask is it really the Muslim terrorists perpetuating fear, or is it the fixation of the media? Perhaps both? While we conceptualize, analyze and theorize social chaos, too often, we forget that we have had a hand in creating it, by allowing it and not changing our focus, and failing to align ourselves with higher purpose. Personally, I aspire to take responsibility for my inner state, and realize that I too, have responsibility for the condition of our outer state, it only to hold space for a higher vibrational frequency.
While cognitive dissonance theory begins with its focus upon individuals, we also realize it’s legitimacy in the collective conscious of humanity. We may recall America’s response (and lack thereof, for not holding our authority figures responsible!) to learning that Saddam Hussein, did not indeed have weapons of mass destruction, that initially justified the potential loss of life, and the billion dollar a day cost of military invasion of another country. We collectively changed our minds about what was right and wrong, and as Americans, decidedly looked the other way, when a warrant was issued by the World Court, for President George W. Bush. Dare we call it what it is? War crimes, crimes against humanity, breach of fiduciary duty with far reaching consequences, and both civil and criminal liability? How dare we as Americans not honor the World Court? This is a powerful demonstration of cognitive dissonance. We use patriotic propaganda to rationalize our behaviors, our lies and our omission of truth.
In the news of the day, in December 2015, we are also witnessing Cognitive Dissonance Theory in the changing national mindset, which is now focused upon closing our borders, and disallowing Muslim Refugees from entering American sanctuary. We will soon discover whether a majority sentiment calls for a Muslim band, the stripping of our personal weapons, and the building of a wall between Mexico and the United States. Social situational reactions to the trends and times, may call for us to overrule our national, generosity of spirit, and our rights to protect ourselves, in the name of safety and national security. But I ask from whom? The momentary enemy of the media, or the real enemy, the military industrial stronghold, masquerading as a democracy? This is also fertile ground for bigots, to relish in their antiquated, barbaric, hateful, undereducated, prejudices. Some will simply give in and change their minds, (which is the foundational undercurrent of Cognitive Dissonance), rather than step up, to enlarge their perspective and find a solution which benefits all concerned (which is the futuristic application of Self-Perceptual Theory). This expand versus shrink analogy, lies at the heart and soul of the discussion and debate regarding Cognitive Dissonance and Self-Perception Theories of Mind.
The Shift Movement, a global collaboration which challenges us all to thrive, and enlarge our perspective and commitment for the advancement of the human race, is an initiation which challenges individuals to conceive of planet earth beyond the limiting boundaries and self-interests of nations. Information regarding this movement can be found selectively, in the news media, for those who are interested in looking beyond the sensational dome and gloom news, to find uplifting coverage of other important, more spiritually and ecologically expansive topics, which can demonstrate the very heart and soul of the far reaching application of evolving self-perception theory.
Modern day integral and transpersonal self-perception theory invites the ever growing continuous redefining and relinquishing, of self, in alignment with sustained spiritual growth and enlargement of (social) consciousness. As some of us, evolve from the limited “us versus them” mindsets of Homo sapien, and actively recreate ourselves, in the role of Homo noeticus, the intuitive spiritually advanced version of our ongoing developmental history, we find 21st century self perception theory not only showcases aspects of our current conceptual perspective, it also demonstrates the potential for our future, a future of plenty rather than scarcity.
While inquisitive minds wonder which theory is more relevant to the times, Cognitive Dissonance Theory or Self-Perception Theory, I assert that both are valuable and have merit. Depending upon the situation and the motivational factors, application from either theory or both could be useful. Both theories serve to enlarge our perspective and both give us application for use in the real world. The combined influential perspective gives us more information to work in regards to understanding individual and collective behavior.
If one is motivated to predict the actions of terrorists, or to control the masses through forced compliance, then Festinger and Carlsmith’s theoretical research lineage and its many applications would be deemed more important. If the motivational criteria involved altruistic criteria which involved individual development of human beings, overcoming their more base, animalistic natures, and the advancement of the humanity, as a whole, then Bem’s theory and its evolutional second and third generational offspring, and application would be more important (Washburn, 2003; Freedom, 2011; Brown, 2013). These theories are foundational platforms upon which we will build future theory and application for the responsible governing of ourselves, our cultures, nations and species.
In conclusion, Festinger and Carlsmith’s theory and its future research spawn enlarges its perspective beyond the limited realm of mind, to stretch into the not as limited two dimensional realms of body and mind, when it begins to consider the physiological arousal link, first addressed by Bem. Meanwhile Bem’s research lineage crosses the trilogy of the body, mind, and spirit paradigm (Masnickam, 2013). Are we more than just our bodies and our minds? God, I hope so! Each individual will hopefully address these aspects of self-concept, perception, attitude and belief, and aspire to be more than just an animal life form, and begin resonating with their own divinity, taking responsibility for their co-creation.
It is important to consider that we are responding to the virtual reality we are creating in our heads. We are creating this. We are analyzing this. Are we also anal retentive, and in failing to realize that we have creative powers that we are not only abusing but squandering? It is the author opinion, that indeed we are more than just body and mind, that we are also spirit, part of a universal collective consciousness, returning home (MacDougal, 1907 Mertens & Fisher, 1988). Hopefully our individual, social, and collective consciousness will evolve through ever broadening humanistic, transpersonal and integral perspectives (Brown, 2013; MacDonald & Friedman 2009).
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