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Cognitive Dissonance has been a very popular topic in psychology for quite some time. However, one topic that has not been touched upon very much in regard to cognitive dissonance is that of religion. Many psychologists have done topics that could be related to religion, but have not completely focused their attention to it. Before I go any further, I believe it is imperative to lay a little groundwork for this theory called cognitive dissonance.
Leon Festinger has done much work in the field of cognitive dissonance. Festinger (1957) states that \"two elements are dissonant if, for one reason or another, they do not fit together\" (12). This allows many things to fall in this category. To further exemplify this he uses several analogies. One of the most prevalent throughout his book is the analogy of the smoker. The smoker has heard that smoking is not good for his/her health. According to Festinger, this produces dissonance in the smoker. This smoker, however, must reduce or eliminate the dissonance. There must be a state of consonance or agreement within the mind. To achieve this consonance the smoker could do one of two things. One, the smoker must change his/her attitude. Second, the smoker must change his/her behavior. Some might say that the first option is the most used for it is easier to change the attitude than it is to change the behavior.
Blanton, Skurnik, Cooper, and Arson (1997) examined different ways to reduce dissonance. It was suggested that by giving a person affirmation about himself/herself would reduce the amount of dissonance experienced. In this study, the experimenters gave the participants a task. This task was to write an essay that was supposed to create a state of dissonance. After the essay, the groups received relevant affirmation, irrelevant affirmation, or no affirmation. It was concluded that relevant affirmation regarding the topic that was to cause the dissonance did not reduce any dissonance. However, irrelevant affirmation did reduce or eliminate the dissonance (Blanton et.al. 1997).
There have been some studies that have examined the relationship between cognitive dissonance and religion. Richard Jenks chose to examine the attitudes of swingers and nonswingers. He defined swinging as \"comarital sex\" (Jenks, 1985). There tends to be a disagreement in the research regarding this topic. Bartell found a conservative attitude towards political and social issues, while Gilmartin found that swingers have more of a liberal attitude towards the same issues (Jenks, 1985). Jenks decided to add to this inconsistency. He hypothesized that swingers would have more liberal attitudes towards sexual issues than nonswingers would but not on other issues. He did find significant results on most of the issues he was interested in. The ones I believe will be most relevant to my study are the issues of \"birth control available to anyone, premarital sex is wrong, and abortion is wrong\" (Jenks, 1985). Jenks found significant results in these three categories which supported his hypothesis.
Kimberly Mahaffy (1996) performed another study that focused on religion and how it effects cognitive dissonance. This study consisted of participants who were self-proclaimed lesbians who were either associated with a Christian church previously or presently. She had three things she wanted to examine. These three topics were when the woman realized her sexual tendencies did she identify herself as an evangelical Christian or not; do these women attribute the dissonance to their own beliefs; and if the tension is internal, will she be more likely to live with the tension (Mahaffy, 1996). This study gave the results of these topics, but did not signify if they were significant or not. The information obtained, however, seemed to support her hypothesis that the women who were pre-evangelical Christians and then realized their sexual tendencies would have more dissonance than their counter-parts. However, some of these women seemed to change the current held beliefs by most Christians. One that Mahaffy reported was that the women would claim that the Bible was not God`s words but the common man`s words. This allowed the women to believe they were not necessarily living in sin.
My hypothesis is that when there is a religious innuendo present, those participants will report that the decisions the couple made were wrong. However, when there is an absence of the religious innuendo the participants will not see the actions wrong. I believe that the self-reported religious beliefs will also affect the responses.
The study consisted of 59 students at a small college in northwest Missouri. The students were a mixture of both males (19) and females (40). The students were from general psychology courses on the campus of Missouri Western State College. They were informed of their right not to participate in the study if they did not feel comfortable with the study. The students did receive either extra credit points or points that were required for the class by participating.
Two different forms of a questionnaire and a vignette were used. Both forms contained a vignette of a girl and the decisions she and her boyfriend make in regard to pre-marital sex and pregnancy. After each passage (one regarding pre-marital sex, the other regarding pregnancy), there were questions that dealt with the decision the participant would have made if he/she were in the same situation and his/her beliefs about the decisions the couple made (see Appendix A). On a separate paper, there was a short questionnaire on religious beliefs. The questionnaire was one in which Burris, Harmon-Jones, and Tarpley designed for their study on agitation and dissonance. There were four questions that ask the participants to rate their religious beliefs (Burris et.al. 1997) (see Appendix B). The reason I chose this questionnaire is that it is simple and straightforward. The difference between the two is that on one of the forms there was a copy of the Ten Commandments on it before the story of the couple and on the other form there was a copy of several statutes that deal with abortion (see Appendix C).
All of the participants received the story of the young girl and her boyfriend and either the Ten Commandments or the statutes on abortion. Thirty students received the Ten Commandments and the other 19 received the statutes on abortion. After the participants finished reading the story and answering the questions associated with the story, the forms were collected. The students then received the separate paper that contained the questionnaire on religious beliefs. The forms contained coordinating numbers to record the data for each student. The forms contained no other identifying marks.
A second 2x2 mixed design ANOVA was computed to examine if there was any differences between whether the participants received the statutes on abortion or if they received the Ten Commandments. There was a significant difference whether the participants responded that they would act in a similar manner in regards to having sex and having an abortion (F(1,56)=61.45, p<.001). This says that the participants responded that they would be more likely to do the same thing in regards to sex but not in regards to abortion. There was no significant difference whether the participants received the statutes or the Ten Commandment to how they responded in regards to having sex or having an abortion (F(1,56)=.004, p=.98). This says that the statutes or the Ten Commandments did not influence the responses of the participants. The participants that belonged to group one responded that they would do the same thing in regards to abortion 10.7 percent of the time and in regards to having sex 71.4 percent of the time. The participants that belonged to group two responded that they would do the same thing in regards to abortion 16.7 percent of the time and in regards to having sex 66.7 percent of the time. There was no interaction between whether they received the statutes or the Ten Commandments and the responses on doing the same thing in regards to having sex and having an abortion. (see Figure 2)
Several Independent T-tests were computed to see if there was a difference between the participants` religious beliefs and their answers in regard to the decisions made by the couple. There was a significant difference between the means on beliefs and the means on whether the decision in regard to sex was wrong (t(56)=-3.07, p=.003). There was a significant difference between the means on beliefs and the means on whether the participant would behave the same way in regards to sex (t(56)=2.70, p=.009). There was significant difference between the means on beliefs and means on whether the decision in regard to abortion was wrong (t(56)=-2.14, p=.036). There was no significant difference between the means on the beliefs and the means on whether the participant would behave the same way in regards to abortion (t(55)=.895, p=.375).
This study was based on a hypothetical situation. Therefore, it is not clear on how the participants may react if they were faced with a similar situation. It is also not positive that the participants were being truthful in their answers. One reason is because religion and abortion can be pretty controversial subjects. The participants may have replied in the way that they thought would please the experimenter. It was also a self-report system that the study was based on. To improve this study I think it would be useful to not inform the subjects in the fact that they are part of an \"experiment\". Instead to hide the idea by going outside of campus and portraying the study as simply a survey. I think it would be useful to also examine these people away from the situation of a classroom to get a better understanding of how they would react when faced with the situation. More manipulation of the experiment would also help in examining the relationship. Other situations could also be examined, perhaps not as controversial as abortion. I think it would also be interesting to further examine why the participants replied that it was a wrong decision to make when others decided to have premarital sex but it was not wrong if they behaved in the same manner and vice versa.
Blanton, H., Cooper, J., Skurnik, I., & Aronson, J. (1997). When bad things happen to good feedback: Exacerbating the need for self-justification with self-affirmations. Personality and Social Psychology, 23, 684-692.
Burris, C.T., Harmon-Jones, E., & Tarpley, W.R. (1997). \"By Faith Alone\": Religious agitation and cognitive dissonance. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 19, 17-31.
Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Jenks, R.J. (1985). A comparative study of swingers and nonswingers: Attitudes and beliefs. Lifestyles, 8, 5-20.
Law.com Inc. (April 20,199). Available: at http://law.com.
Mahaffy, K.A. (1996). Cognitive dissonance and its resolution: A study of lesbian christians. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35, 392.
Mary is a twenty-one year old woman. She is a senior at Missouri Western State College. She has been accepted into the medical program at KU. She has aspirations to become a surgeon. Her boyfriend, John, is a twenty-two year old man. John also is a senior at Missouri Western State College. Like Mary, he has been accepted into the medical program at KU and plans to attend the university in the fall. He has aspirations to become a family physician. They have been together for one and a half years. Recently, they began to have an intimate relationship.
Both of them are consensual adults. Are they doing anything wrong?
If you were in Mary or John`s situation, would you do the same thing?
During this relationship Mary becomes pregnant. After weighing out the options and discussing the decision with John and their families, Mary and John decide to abort the baby. Mary has just begun her third month of pregnancy.
Are they doing anything wrong?
If you were in Mary or John`s situation, would you do the same thing?
1. How interested are you in religion?
Very Interested Somewhat Interested Not Interested
2. How important is religion to you?
Very Important Somewhat Important Not Important
3. How frequently do you participate in organized religious activities (attending church, attending church events, etc)?
Very Often Somewhat Often Never
4. How frequently do you participate in individual religious activities (praying)?
Very Often Somewhat Often Never
_____________________________religious denomination (if any)
1. I am lord your God
2. Thou shalt not have any other Gods
3. Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain
4. Keep the Sabbath Day holy
5. Honor thy father and thy mother
6. Thou shalt not kill
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery
8. Thou shalt not steal
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor`s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor`s wife.
Here are some various statutes that deal with abortion that were received from law.com.
188.027. No abortion shall be performed except with the prior, informed and written consent freely given of the pregnant woman.
188.036. 1. No physician shall perform an abortion on a woman if the physician knows that the woman conceived the unborn child for the purpose of providing fetal organs or tissue for medical transplantation to herself or another, and the physician knows that the woman intends to procure the abortion to utilize those organs or tissue for such use for herself or another.
188.039. 1. No physician shall perform an abortion unless, prior to such abortion, the physician certifies in writing that the woman gave her informed consent, freely and without coercion, after the attending physician had informed her of the information contained in subsection 2 of this section and shall further certify in writing the pregnant woman`s age, based upon proof of age offered by her.
188.029. Before a physician performs an abortion on a woman he has reason to believe is carrying an unborn child of twenty or more weeks gestational age, the physician shall first determine if the unborn child is viable by using and exercising that degree of care, skill, and proficiency commonly exercised by the ordinarily skillful, careful, and prudent physician engaged in similar practice under the same or similar conditions. In making this determination of viability, the physician shall perform or cause to be performed such medical examinations and tests as are necessary to make a finding of the gestational age, weight, and lung maturity of the unborn child and shall enter such findings and determination of viability in the medical record of the mother
Figure 2. Mean scores of participants when asked if they would behave in the same manner in regards to having an abortion and engaging in premarital sex. The scores were compared based on whether they received the statutes on abortion or the Ten Commandments.
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