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Analysis of Psychology: The Human Experience

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Running head: ANALYSIS OF PSYCHOLOGY: THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE                1

Analysis of Psychology: The Human Experience (2001)

Vernon Clements

The School of Positive Psychology


ANALYSIS OF PSYCHOLOGY: THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE                                2

Analysis of Psychology: The Human Experience (2001)

In the video segment between 04:07 - 06:54 of the second video, mountain climbers behave in ways that are identical to the way Festinger (1957) described in his theory of cognitive dissonance. In this video segment, Carl the group leader, decides that everyone needs to head down the mountain; due to a lack of time and some climbers being fatigued. This decision resulted in four of the ten climbers experiencing distress in the form of cognitive dissonance, because they felt capable of climbing further and had a strong desire to peak the mountain, yet their immediate behaviour was to obey Carl’s instructions. After some time climbers talked to each other and they learnt that other group members shared their attitude and wanted to continue climbing. They then grouped up and asked Carl to allow them to continue with the climb, to which he agreed. This resulted in their attitudes becoming aligned with their behaviour, which eliminated their dissonance. They became very relieved as a result. I find this video segment the most impactful because it fits Festinger’s theory (1957) since the climbers behaved exactly in the way that his theory describes. Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance explains that discrepancies between people’s attitudes and their behaviours lead to mental distress known as cognitive dissonance; and that when people experience cognitive dissonance, they seek to eliminate it through a change in either their attitude, belief, or behaviour (Festinger, 1957). This video segment shows the validity of Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance, since the mountain climbers acted exactly in the way that Festinger described, after experiencing cognitive dissonance.

On the other hand, cognitive dissonance may not be the true cause of this observed behaviour. Instead it may be due to people’s desire to maintain a positive self-concept, in which people seek consistency between their actions, commitments, beliefs and self-ascribed traits (Cialdini, R. B, & Goldstein, N. J., 2004). Thus the climbers’ actions that lead them to continue climbing the mountain may have been caused to some degree by their maintenance

ANALYSIS OF PSYCHOLOGY: THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE                                3

of a positive self-image. Additionally if this were the case, it would reveal a weakness in Festinger’s theory (1957) due to it not being precise enough to determine whether or not cognitive dissonance may be the true cause of people overcoming their distress in such situations.

In the video segment, the climbers who experienced dissonance, behaved in a similar way to the subjects in Milgram’s experiment (1963). Despite not being told to inflict pain on another person, they obeyed an authority’s decision despite not wanting to, which caused them to become distressed. This shows that Milgram’s experiment (1963) is valid because the climbers willingly obeyed an authority’s decision despite it causing distress to them. This may show that people are inclined to follow instructions that go against their own will if the instructions are given by a person identified as being an authority.

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