Cognitive Dissonance Program To Reduce The Use Of All Forms Of Plastic Bags

The theory of Cognitive Dissonance was developed in1957 by Leon Festinger, he proposed that human beings strive for internal psychological consistency to mentally function in the world. The theory proposes that when people experience psychological discomfort (dissonance), they strive to reduce it through either changing behaviours and cognitions or adding new cognitive elements. This essay will describe the theory of cognitive dissonance and discuss the subtopics within this theory and apply this to a program which uses ways to reduce the use of all forms of single use plastic bags in supermarkets.

Festinger first developed cognitive dissonance to explain how members of a cult were persuaded by their leader. They believed that the earth was going to be destroyed and that they alone were going to be rescued by aliens. The members increased their commitment to the cult even after the event didn’t occur. The dissonance to the thought of being wrong was so great that they instead revised their beliefs that they had saved the world and stopped the aliens from coming. According to the theory, we all recognize, at some level, when we are acting in a way that is inconsistent with our beliefs, attitudes and opinions. Previous studies found that cognitions can be irrelevant to, consonant with, or dissonant with each other. People are motivated to maintain cognitive consonance and the presence of cognitive dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable and creates pressures to reduce dissonance.

Dissonance Producing Situations can be described in three ways one of the three is post decisional dissonance this is when dissonance almost always exists after a decision has been made between two or more alternatives for instance buying reusable bags customers have to pay at least 15cents per bag, the idea of this was to enforce customers to bring their reusable bags each time they shop instead of buying more. If the customer forgets their reusable bag this creates cognitive dissonance because they don’t want to pay the 15c. The second is post decision dissonance, post-decisional dissonance is a form of regret, a worry that perhaps the best choice wasn’t made. The price for a bag was implemented for manufacturing costs and to reduce people buying them and instead developing new habits to bring in the bags they already have. Another reason is people don’t fully understand why plastic bags are being swapped with thicker plastic longer lasting bags, the plan is the longer lasting bags will hopefully not end up as frequently in the ocean and on land as single use bags. Changing cognitive views on this by educating people may help reduce the dissonance and help people understand and conform together. The third reason that can increase cognitive dissonance is, forced compliance which is when a person is forced to do something publicly or something they privately don’t agree with and don’t want to do.

The choice to convert to reusable bags wasn’t made freely and was implemented upon customers, dissonance is created between their cognition (I didn't want to do this) and their behaviour (I did it). Coles offered free reusable bags for a period while customers adjusted to the new change to reduce the negative effects of change such as cognitive dissonance.

Festinger and Smith (1959) created an experiment, which consisted of 71 students who participated in an hour long boring task and then were induced to lie to another student that the study was interesting, getting either $1 or $20 in return. Afterwards, participants in experimental group were asked to rate their private opinions about whether the tasks were interesting and enjoyable. Those in the $1 condition reported a more favourable attitude to the boring experiment. Festinger theorized that the result was due to greater dissonance experienced by participants in the $1 condition. Participants in the $20 condition could justify their behaviour by the means of the reward, the $1 condition is a very small reward offering no cognitive explanation of going against their morals by lying, instead the dissonance was reduced by attitude change. Overall, findings indicated that greater reward provides external justification for the dissonant act and therefore creates less dissonance, while a smaller reward does not provide any justification and creates more dissonance. To reduce dissonance, people tend to change their opinions through internalizing what they have said or done. The experiment inspired researchers to apply this theory in a wide array of topics such as attitudes toward smoking, conservation of water and energy and environmental effects.

Matz and his colleagues (2008) showed that personality can help mediate the effects of cognitive dissonance. They found that people who were extraverted were less likely to feel the negative impact of cognitive dissonance and were also less likely to change their mind. Introverts, on the other hand, experienced increased dissonance discomfort and were more likely to change their attitude to match the majority of others in the experiment. Cognitive dissonance has been successfully used to help people change their unhealthy attitudes and behaviours.

Only individuals who are in a state of cognitive dissonance will take steps to reduce the extent of their dissonance. A program to reduce cognitive dissonance for the ban of single use bags can be implemented in one of three basic ways, a) Change beliefs by giving people access to available resources and information on why the change was implemented and how their contributing helps the environment, b) Change actions, This has already been implemented by removing the single use bags and only having the reusable to purchase, keeping bags in the front of the car can remind customers to bring their bags in each time they shop and c) Change perception of action, people are frequently walking around with their reusable bags this gives a sense of norm and belonging to bring their bags in and not stand out from society.Incorporating a program for people to better understand how we once before lived without plastic would be another good strategy to implement.

Plastic was created in 1907, the first plastic base was made from phenol and formaldehyde by Leo Hendrik Baekeland. From the 1960s on, the company had pursued a policy on polyethylene packaging patents and by 1977 was producing its own plastic bags. Plastic grocery bags were introduced in America in 1979. Before the plastic bag was invented society used alternatives such as paper for packaging things that did not require plastic in the first place, cloth bags and other civilized things for carrying most things around and where fluid transportation was involved, glass bottles or metal containers were used. When people must make do with reusable bags, they become disciplined. When there was no plastic, people developed habits that were by default eco-friendly, such as carrying our own bags for shopping, reusing them instead of dumping them after every use. It has been found that recycling is significantly higher when participants had previously received environmental information. This suggests that positive behaviour change, and cognitive belief change may occur if the right environmental values are primed. If people are educated on this topic it may have less of a dissonance affect.

Attitude change brought about by behaviour change policies such as removal of single use bags. Adapting to reusing bags can be explained by well-established social psychological consistency theories, such as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance theory posits that people have a motivational drive to reduce discrepancies between attitudes and behaviour, discrepancies that produce feelings of discomfort. This can be done by either changing attitudes or behaviours. Attitude change may therefore occur if policies are successful in changing behaviour. The charge appeared highly effective in changing its target behaviour of carrier bag use. Own bag users in NSW increased from 62% to 82% after the introduction of the reusable bag charge. The reusable bag charge appears to have established a change of habits in NSW.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory has many strengths such as it has motivated a great deal of discussion. Cognitive dissonance theory makes predictions about human thought and behaviour after making a decision (post-decisional dissonance), it is a very wide-ranging theory. Theorists believe that Cognitive Dissonance Theory is useful and explanatory but needs some refinements. Studies from Cooper & Fazio, (1984) & Wicklund and Brehm (1976) argue that dissonance may not be the most important concept to explain attitude change and that Cognitive Dissonance Theory is not clear enough about the conditions under which dissonance leads to a change in attitudes, although these are very old articles and since newer studies have been done.

Harmon-Jones, (2000) believes that continuing to refine the theory by examining cognitions more specifically will yield rich theoretical insights, Cognitive Dissonance Theory has contributed greatly to our understanding of cognitions and their relationship to behaviours. The concept of dissonance remains a powerful one in research literature. The weaknesses to this theory is it makes no predictions about how dissonance will be reduced.

Implementing this theory into a program can test how to reduce the effects of cognitive dissonance. This essay lists several options for reducing cognitive dissonance incorporating consonant cognitions and altering the importance of cognitions. If the research on cognitive dissonance theory had been able to test specific predictions, the empirical support for this theory might be stronger. Criticism to the theory that are pointed out relates specifically to the criterion of testability, which refers to the theory’s likelihood of ever being proven in real-world situations. Longitudinal research is needed to show how individuals are the most likely to change their attitudes and behaviour and under which conditions these changes may come about. In regards to the removal of single use bags quite a few still use these reusable bags as rubbish bags, the point in which reusable bags was introduced was to minimise the single use bag wastage in marine life and to the world but when a person uses these bags in the manner as they did with the previous they find themselves experiencing cognitive dissonance to the idea in which the bags will take longer to degrade as its made thicker to last longer.

11 February 2020
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