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Cognitive Dissonance: 50 Years of a Classic Theory
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Fifty years ago, we learned that we cannot hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time, nor can we engage in behaviors that conflict with our beliefs, at least not without creating a great deal of psychological discomfort, which we then have to work hard to dissipate. Even before 1957, people knew, for example, that it was not easy to see themselves as upstanding, honest individuals while simultaneously swindling widows of their life savings. But that year was particularly full of conflicting thoughts and behaviors. It was the year Ed Sullivan introduced Elvis as "a real, decent fine boy" and then allowed his singing of "Peace In The Valley" to be televised only from the waist up. It was the year the Soviet Union launched not one but two Sputniks into orbit, putting that country and not us into first place in the original star wars.

But 1957 was a good year, too. The laser and the piña colada were invented. And social psychology was flourishing with interesting research that was relevant to everyday American life. It was the year psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term 'cognitive dissonance' when in another recent news event, a small group of Californians calling themselves The Seekers awaited the prophesied end of the world by flood on December 21, 1955. "All of the people would perish in the cataclysm," they believed, "except for those who believed in the prophecies emanating from the planet Clarion; they alone would be saved from the flood" (p. 3). As happened to the Millerites a century before, the Jehovah's Witnesses 40 years earlier, and countless other groups before and after, The Seekers were sorely disappointed when the day came and the expected event failed to transpire.

Festinger and his students, however, knew they had hit a gold mine of social research in this 'disconfirmed expectancy,' and their prompt and thorough study of the group resulted in Festinger's 1956 book When Prophecy Fails. In the book, Festinger finishes the story: After the great letdown, and after much prayer and soul searching by the devotees, the Seeker's prophet soon learned from Clarion that Earth had been spared because of the faith and efforts of the little group. What had seemed like a failed prophecy was actually a blessing in disguise. Goodbye, disconfirmed expectancy! Adios, cognitive dissonance! Festinger and his team went on in later studies to focus on the specific psychological process by which this cognitive adjustment had taken place. Cognitive dissonance theory had been born.

Social psychologist Joel Cooper captures all of this beautifully in Cognitive Dissonance: Fifty Years of a Classic Theory. It is a labor of love as much as a scholarly revisit to the roots, development, and current implications of an important 'super-theory' (p. 181) in psychology. Cooper is the ideal person to write this book. His own research in cognitive dissonance stretches back four decades, and, although he does not mention it in the book, Cooper's doctoral dissertation likely dealt with cognitive dissonance. His website reveals that even now "his major research focus is on attitudes and attitude change, particularly as they relate to the process of cognitive dissonance." In short, Cooper has the bona fides to write this book.

And this is no dry memoir. In the tradition of Elliot Aronson, whose own work in cognitive dissonance theory is amply discussed, the book is a delight to read. In discussing all of the important studies of cognitive dissonance over the last half century, Cooper takes care to delineate those studies that were particularly important in their purpose, particularly clever in their design, and most groundbreaking in their results. He made me nostalgic for that time when the field of psychology was alive with excitement and research topics that actually made sense to those outside a narrow specialty. While I personally wasn't even sentient during that longed-for time, it is fun to read about.

Cooper also writes of the theory's important implications for today. The early 21st century is alive with possibilities for conflicting thoughts and actions, as we drive across town to hear a speaker who flew his private jet to lecture us about environmental responsibility or we write a check for the campaign of a 'family values candidate' who is on his third marriage and is a known philanderer. Cooper agrees, and he discusses the role of cognitive dissonance theory in reaching current health-care and public health goals. And for clinicians, he provides a thought-provoking section on the union of psychotherapy (all brands) and cognitive dissonance.

This book is a gem and joins those rare others in our field that offer important historical perspective, brush away the cobwebs from relevant research, suggest remedies for some current challenges, and all the time provide a very enjoyable read.

*This is a condensed version of my review of the book in PsycCRITIQUES--Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, 52(45), 2007.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
At times this book almost feels like a recitation of Coopers research career. Most of the research presented in this book was performed by or related to Coopers own research. Which makes sense, since he is more familiar with these experiments than experiments not related to his own. As such, the book mainly focuses on Coopers point of view of cognitive dissonance rather than cognitive dissonance in general.

If you aren't familiar with any of the research after 1957 then this book will do a pretty good job of getting you started, but I wouldn't recommend stopping there.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is quite useful on summarizing the development of cognitive dissonance theory over the years. It outlines the most important studies conducted in favour and against the theory and gives insight to other theories relevant to cognitive dissonance. Even though the book is far from being objective as the writer himself introduces his own perspective as "a new look at dissonance theory", the book still has the advantage of being one of the most comprehensive resource on the history of cognitive dissonance.
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on October 7, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book from social psychologist Cooper is a must read for economists interested in cognitive dissonance theories. The examples it includes are not directly relevant to economists but they are easy to use as generic ideas for tackling economic problems where individual psychology matters.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I downloaded the Amazon reader version, in order to include this work in my dissertation. There are no page numbers, so I cannot include direct quotes per APA format requirement! This makes the work virtually useless for the purposes I bought it for and a waste of $35. I'm really upset. I would have preferred buying it on the Google reader.

I should have known better. I think Amazon is losing their touch. Amazon Fresh was useless. And Amazon Reader can't keep up with Google. I just bought my last "kindle" product through Amazon. Do yourself a favor and do not buy this product here. Go to SAGE Publications or purchase through Google.
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