Are we independent thinkers? Cognitive dissonance and its effect in virtual groups

posted 9 Nov 2015, 22:20 by Franco Bagnoli   [ updated 9 Nov 2015, 22:52 ]

by Altini Andrea, Biagioni Debora, Canosa Carlotta, Cassina Giulia, Duradoni Mirko, Fisico Alice



The ways humans beings behaves, thinks, and makes decisions isn’t always a rational way. Kurt Lewin’s Field Theory construct (1943) affirms that those aspects may be influenced by cognitive heuristics, which comes from both individual’s characteristics and external environment. According to social heuristics hypothesis, the social environment influences those process through the internalization of social norms in the form of automatic behavioural dispositions. (Peysakhovich et al., 2013; Peysakhovich et al., 2014). The emergence of the Information Communication Technologies has created a new field of interactions for humans beings. The Social identity model of deindividuation effects affirms that the anonymousness given to people by some ICT, strengthen people’s affiliation to social norms (Postmes, 1998). Thanks to SIDE’s researchers evidences, it will be interesting understanding how people behave in a virtual contest.

Reference Model/Theory

The theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) considers dissonance as a psychological state of tension that individuals are motivated to minimize. Such phenomenon takes place when an individual entertains ideas or behaviours that are psychologically inconsistent.
More specifically it can consist in a logical incompatibility, related to past behaviours and cultural norms. Already the classical studies of Sherif (1932) underline the influence of social norms on human behaviours. Such norms, which represent the expectations of a social group in relation to its members, provide the parameters to which individuals can link their interpretation of the world, and against which they shape their behaviours and notions.
Social norms in fact allow individuals to behave effectively, to build and maintain relations, and to manage their self-image (Cialdini & Trost 1998). Based on this evidence it can be stated that actions or perceptions that are inconsistent with social norms produce a dissonance, especially when they are internalized and become part of the individual consciousness. The discomfort produced by this inconsistency is reduced, as assumed by Festinger’s theory, by modifying the weakest element in the dissonance.

Hypotheses and Aims

We assume that in the unfrustated game condition the participants will not experience dissonance, because interacting with other individuals in that circumstance does not conflict with social norms. On the other hand, in the frustrated game condition, participants will experience dissonance between their behaviour and social norms, according to these two aspects, they act and evaluate their actions. Therefore, more they will interact in the frustrated condition, more they will rework the psychic structure against the weaker element, in this case, the opinion.

Hypothesis: In the frustrated game condition there is a statistically significant linear relationship between activities in the public radar (contact) and activities in the private radar (opinion).


Data Analysis and Results

The variable activity in the public radar has been transformed using the natural logarithm due to the inadequacy of the values of skewness and kurtosis. Instead the activity in the private radar presented values of skewness and kurtosis adequate. Both variables were continuous and on an appropriate scale of measure, thus we proceeded to the analysis of the Bravais-Pearson’s correlation coefficient.

   Activity in private radar
   Frustrated condition  Unfrustrated condition
Activity in public radar  0.40*  0.30
*p < .05

In the frustrated game condition exists a statistically significant linear relationship (r = .40; p <.05) between the activity in the public radar (M = 1.88; SD = 1.82) and the activity in the private radar (M = 6.88; SD = 6.72). When the activity in the public radar increases also the activity in the private radar raises. In the unfrustrated game there is no statistically significant linear relationship (r = .30; ns) between the activity in the public radar (M = 2.61; SD = 3.66) and the private radar’s activity (M = 7.41; SD = 6:14).


Discussion and future perspectives

The correlation between the activity in the public radar and the activity in the private radar emerges only in the frustrated game condition. We can assume that only in this condition the contacts occurred through approaches in public radar affected the perception or the declaration of closeness of opinion of the participant. This result can be attributed to the effect of the instruction. In the unfrustrated condition the participants are free to get in contact with other individuals solely on the basis of their own desire of self-expression. In the frustrated game condition the same action to get in contact with other participants can also be attributed to the received instruction. We suppose that the subjects, unable to rationalize their behaviour, try to re-establish a cognitive consonance changing the weakest element in order to restore their sense of self-esteem, in this case the perception of others’ opinion, through the movement in the private radar. This action is visible only to the one who made the movement and from nobody else, so we can assume that this action could act as a reflection of the rearrangement of the psychic structure. People, despite the anonymity offered by ICT, regulates themselves in their action on the basis of introjected social norms. Useful for future research will be to determine which ergonomic features of ICT, as well as the real-life contexts, make it possible to exploit this phenomenon of self-regulation and when this can lead to self-justification of amoral or dishonest behaviour.


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