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[The importance of cognitive dissonance]

Here is a question for you: I ask you to do a boring task – say turn around some wooden pegs for no reason at all. They I offer you a reward – either $ 20 or $ 1. Are you more likely to say you enjoyed it in the former or in the latter condition?

Naturally, your answer is wrong. 😊 Watch the clip below:

But there was a reason why you got it wrong; I left out an important detail. The subjects in the study were actually asked to lie to a third person about the nature of the task. The ones who got paid $ 20 thought: ‘OK, the task was boring, but they gave me $ 20, so that’s why I lied’. With the others though, this wouldn’t work; $ 1 was a trifling sum. So why did they do it? Faced with this internal conflict, these subjects actually changed their perception of reality: ‘Oh well – I didn’t lie so much; the task was quite interesting’. This is pure magic! 😊

Think about it: most of us feel that people’s beliefs determine their actions; Cognitive Dissonance argues that in many cases it is people’s actions that shape their beliefs! (‘The Advertising Effect’ – pp. 32-33). Here are two examples:

  • We value more things we paid a lot for (‘It has cost me a fortune, so either I am stupid or this is really very valuable’)
  • We think worse of people we have wronged (‘I spoke badly about him, so either I was unfair or he really is a b****rd’)

So is there a way we can use this insight with our students? Yes, there is. We do not need to try to persuade them that something is good for them so they will do it; we only need to get them to do something and then their brain will do the rest! Here are some tips:

  • Ask students to prepare mini videos advertising the school / the teacher / the coursebook (‘If I said I liked it, it must be good’).
  • Ask students to help you with the lesson (‘If I have helped the teacher, she must be nice’).
  • Ask students to participate in a project ‘as part of an experiment’ (‘If I have spent so much time, I must be a conscientious student’).
  • Ask students to volunteer for a school initiative (‘If I have volunteered, this means I value the work we do here’).

By the way, here is one last tip: people feel that more expensive medicine is more effective (‘If I have paid so much, the pills must be potent’) – so make sure you charge quite a bit for your private lessons. 😊

The Moral: Get people to do things and they will change their attitude too.