Saturday, May 5, 2012

How Hypocrisy Leads to Behavioral Change - part 1 background

A recent tool in the behavioral modification arsenal used by governments and other large institutions is the dissonance paradigm of hypocrisy.

This is a very subtle technique that was developed out of cognitive dissonance theories. To state it briefly, cognitive dissonance is when a person holds two mutually inconsistent cognition. What research has shown is that people will modify their beliefs or self-concept to eliminate this conflict, without being aware that any modification has taken place.

A simple example can be shown from The Fox and the Grapes parable by Aesop. In this tale a fox see some grapes high up in vine and wishes to eat them, when the fox is unable to find a way to eat the grapes it then concludes that the grapes are probably not ripe anyway, and would just taste sour. In cognitive research research this is called the "adaptive preference formation"

Another example can be seen in various doomsday cults, who are forced into some kind of adaption to resolve cognitive dissonance after their prophecies fail to come true. Here the cult members have to either accept that their beliefs were wrong, or as more often happens change their beliefs in some way such as concluding that they were spared in order to continue spreading their teachings.

Minor examples of government use of this technique are well documented. Public behavioral modification programs related to reducing litter, increasing condom use, or promoting racial tolerance. All with documented success.

Cases of less well-intiontioned use are obviously not so well documented, but with the ease in which this technique can be employed it is not without reason to suspect that it is a common tool in the arsenal of any groups with an agenda reliant on changing the behaviors of large groups of people.

Future posts on this topic will examine some speculative areas where there is some suggestion of cognitive dissonance in society, for now it will be left to the readers here to leave any suggestions they have.

More information here

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