What are the cognitive consequences of forced compliance? Or to put it another way, does a person’s private opinion change if he is forced to say something that contradicts that opinion?
This type of behavior was first discussed in the paper Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance written by eminent psychologists, Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith, and published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology in 1959. Today the paper is still considered to be a seminal text on the cognitive consequences of forced compliance.
An earlier study carried out by Janis and King showed that under certain conditions a person might begin to change their point of view in line with the viewpoint they were being forced to advocate. Their research showed that when a person was made to improvise a speech in support of a viewpoint he or she disagreed with, their own opinion changed as a result. This effect was less pronounced in people who had only listened to the speech or read from a pre-prepared speech.
What are the cognitive consequences of forced compliance if a financial reward is offered?
Research carried out by Kelman to investigate whether a large reward offered to a person making a statement in direct opposition of a private opinion would induce a greater shift in that opinion. To his surprise, this was not the case at all and a person offered a large reward was less likely to change their private opinion, although it was later suggested that the process for the selection of subjects was potentially flawed.
For Festinger and Carsmith’s experiment, 71 male students from Stanford University were recruited to take part in what they were told was a “Measures of Performance” series of experiment. Each student was given a series of very boring tasks to perform, but when the tasks had been completed they were asked to give the next “student” positive feedback about what to expect. Some of the students were offered money to pass on a series of overwhelmingly positive comments regarding the experiments. Each subject was then asked to participate in an interview where four areas of enquiry about the experiment were explored.
The subjects were asked to rate the tasks they had performed based on how positive they were about the experiment. Once the results had been analyzed, they clearly showed that the subjects who were paid more to pass on feedback were less inclined to be positive about the merits of the task they had just completed. Those who were paid $1 or nothing rated the experiment more positively.
To summarize the results of the experiment, when asked to lie about the experiments they had just undertaken, the subjects experienced “cognitive dissonance” whereby their internal feelings were in conflict with what they were being asked to say. Those subjects who were paid more were less inclined to justify the lie to themselves whereas those who were only paid $1 or nothing at all were forced to change their attitude in order to relieve the internal stress of cognitive dissonance, therefore at the end of the experiment, they genuinely believed that they had enjoyed it.