Cognitive dissonance

One of the most complex yet important challenges faced by road safety practitioners is how to influence the hearts and minds of road users in an attempt to change their often ingrained attitudes and behaviour. If this is to be achieved then we need to have an understanding of how attitudes develop and change and how we as road safety professionals can bring about a change in attitude to bring about a behavioural change. This assignment will look at these issues and how an understanding of cognitive dissonance can be used to help influence motorists to change their attitudes and behaviour.

In simple terms attitudes are an expression of our likes or dislikes of things around us often described in such ways as “I can’t abide animal testing” or “I really like red wine” “speeding drivers should be banned”. Whilst these are expressions of feelings these are often tied into beliefs about the stimulus i. e. animal’s are treated cruelly or red wine is good for you and speeding can cause accidents. During the early 1960’s research was undertaken at Yale University from which Rosenburg and Hovland (1960) suggested that there are three classes of response to stimulus.

Affective Response This concerns how a person feels towards a certain stimulus. For example, a person who strongly disagrees with drink driving will have an affective response of feeling that drink driving cause accidents. Cognitive Response This concerns what beliefs a person has about the stimulus. In the case above he would believe that it is wrong and against the law to drink drive and immoral to put others lives at risks. Behavioural Response Concerns a persons behaviour towards the stimulus which is affected by both the affective and cognitive responses.

In our example the person would have a negative attitude towards people who drink drive and would, we anticipate, not drink drive himself. Strength of Response Each of the responses will vary in strength or valence. Their affective response may vary from complete acceptance to total denial, beliefs may range from highly positive to highly negative and behaviour may range from actions that are totally supportive to those which are totally destructive.

As we grow up we form bonds and friendships with like-minded people with whom we share similar attitudes and beliefs. These groups often have the most influential affect on developing and changing our attitudes and beliefs usually replacing parents and teachers in this capacity. Peer group pressure can often persuade an individual to either alter their belief or change their behaviour against their own beliefs. Social Class Parental influence on attitude and behaviour is significant when we are younger and as such we are prone to mimic adult behaviour.

Given this it is not surprising that this behaviour reflects those of the people in our immediate circle and social class. Personality This can be defined as the unique and characteristic patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour that identify an individual’s personal style of interacting with the physical and social environments. There are three schools of thought covering the psychological theories of personality. The first of these is Freud’s psychoanalytical theories where he proposed that there are three parts to the personality :

The Id – according to Freud this is the most primitive part of the personality and the part from which the ego and superego later develop. It consists of the most basic impulses or drives such as the need to eat or drink. The Id seeks immediate gratification of these impulses. The Ego – As we develop we learn that our impulses cannot be immediately satisfied thus our personality develops as we consider the demands of reality. Therefore the ego decides which of the id impulses will be satisfied and in what way.

The Super-Ego – The final part of the personality judges whether actions are right or wrong. It comprises the person’s conscience as well as their morality. Freud believed the super-ego developed in response to parental rewards or punishments. These three components are often in conflict, with the ego postponing the instant satisfaction that the id demands, and the super-ego often being in conflict with the other two as behaviour often falls short of the moral standing we would expect.

Eysenck’s alternative theory suggested that an individual’s personality is graded along a scale somewhere between extremely extrovert to extremely introvert and where we are placed is a direct result of genetics. His psychometric theory indicated that the more introverted personality would more easily accept the values of the society into which they are born. In contrast the more extroverted personalities would have difficulty in this acceptance and would be more likely to question these values.

Humanistic theorists such as Carl Rogers propose that our personalities can change at any stage of our lives. Central to Roger’s theory is the self and he proposes that an individual evaluates every experience in relation to his own self concept or self image. Group Affiliation Theorists also suggested that group affiliation is a basic human need. When joining a group an individual is likely to have similar likes and attitudes to those already in the group. The strength of the group can influence the attitude and values of a member to conform with those of the group.

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