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Volume 1

Expanded Contents


1: Introduction [and Summary]
2: Physical Field Theories
3: Psychological Field Theories
4: Social Field Theories
5: The Field of Power
6: Field Theories in Summary
7: Perception and Reality
8: Actuality versus Potentiality
9: Manifests versus Latents
10: Latent Functions
11: Perception, Space, and Field
13:Behavior, Personality, Situation, and Expectations
14: The Behavioral Equation: Behavior, Situation, and Expectations
15: Situation, Expectations, and Triggers
16: Person-Perception and Distance
17: The Behavioral Occasion
18: Social Behavior
19: Motivational Explanation
20: Energy and Attitudes in the Psychological Field
21: Motivation and the Superordinate Goal
22: What About Other Motivations ?
23: The Dynamic Field and Social Behavior
24: The Sociocultural Spaces
25: The Biophysical Spaces
26: Intentions and The Intentional Field
27: A Point of View
28: The Self As a Power
29: The Will As a Power
30: Determinism and Free Will
31: Alternative Perspectives on Freedom of the Will
32: A Humanism Between Materialism and Idealism
33: Atomism-Mechanism versus Organicism
34: Between Absolutism and Relationism
35: Humanity and Nature

Other Volumes

Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 12

Cognitive Dissonance*

By R.J. Rummel

He who loves his enemies, hates his friends ....
----William Blake, The Evaluating Gospel, 11


 Virtually all the groundwork for understanding the nature of cognitive dissonance already has been presented. Percepts comprise a balance between inner-directed vectors of power and outer-directed vectors of perspectival transformation. This balance is within the dynamic psychological field and is partly between forces generated by the perceptile associated with a vector of power and those activated by the percipient's vector of perspective. Perception is a struggle between us and reality.

Often this battle between us and reality arises when the perceptile and our vector of perspective are incompatible, or when two or more perceptiles cannot be accepted simultaneously into the psychological field without altering one or the other, or one's vector of perspective itself.

We have now moved to the theory of cognitive dissonance, but first one preliminary point should be made about the psychological field. The concepts and percepts that reflect the balance between vectors of power and perspective transformation in the psychological field do not just disappear once cognitized and apprehended. The concepts become relatively stable configurations in the dynamic psychological field. Laden with connotation and sentiment associated with their positions in the field, they become the concepts of our languages and the tools of our thought. Percepts remain as ingredients of our memory, as constituents of our experience, and as denotative-connotative associations underlying our concepts. As we all have experienced, the percepts are not (once perceived) fixed in psychological space, but may be altered gradually by forces within our psychological field. Our memory becomes gradually more favorable toward ourselves, more consistent in its patterns, more congenial to our psychological drives and temperament. Of course, as the percepts build up in a portion of the psychological space, their combined power may gradually force a change in our own personality, as the effects of extended communist brainwashing illustrate.

Thus, the dynamic field swarms with complex configurations of vectors which we call memory and experience of things past. They are patterned, generally consistent with a person's motivations and temperament, and loaded with meaning in their relation to his perspective. A person's location in his dynamic field--his personality--and his patterning of percepts and concepts will generally form an integrated whole, a consistent and stable system comprising at its core the superego and goal of self-esteem.1 Any new perceptile, then, fits into an integrated context consisting of our "reading" of the past and future and our own personality (which includes our central striving for esteem), and will be assimilated into or contrasted against what already exists in the field.

Now, the configurations, patterns, and cluster of percepts and empirical concepts in our dynamic field are the dispositions actualized by our perspective. They provide us with our sense of order and our everyday predictions. We expect a stranger to shake our hand when we offer ours, we expect Christmas cards from our friends, we expect family support when in need, and we expect to receive our pay on time once or twice a month.

I have defined external reality as consisting of potentials, dispositions, determinables, and powers. These are the stimuli compelling recognition from us. They are the momentary aspects of reality altered from disposition to determinate manifestations and which may immediately become determinable dispositions again or part of the unalterable past. Now, the perceptiles resulting from these manifest stimuli are for us mental keys to the underlying bundle of dispositions. We project into phenomena the dispositions which, we intuitively presume, underlie them. In other words, we map external reality not as phenomenally manifest at any moment but as a complex field of dispositions and powers.


 Now we can move directly to the question. Cognitive dissonance2 is a perceptile--a vector of power--inconsistent (unbalanced) with the patterns of concepts and percepts already present in the dynamic psychological field and the percipient's perspective. This inconsistency generates forces toward a balance which is achieved variously through altering the perceptile's position in the field and of the patterns of existing concepts and percepts, or changing the percipient's position itself in the field, or mutually adjusting all of these.3 That is, there is a conflict between a new vector of power bearing upon the percipient and the balance previously wrought between such vectors and his perspective transformation. The resulting conflict involves forces trying to alter the balance to accommodate the new vector or to transform the vector to conform to the existing balance.

Let us see how this may operate. First, there is the commonsense balance among ourselves and two others: a friend of my friend is a friend, a friend of my enemy is an enemy, and an enemy of my friend is an enemy. Friendships or antagonisms comprise patterns of present and past percepts of a person, and they fit into our dynamic field of sentiments, motivations,4 temperaments, and so on. As patterns of percepts, a friend and an enemy both cannot have the same location in our field, for they have different affect, meaning, and values for us. They strike our personality in different ways, and it is by virtue of these different perceptions that they are friends or enemies.

Now let us say that we received a combination of perceptiles in our dynamic field suggesting that our enemy and our friend (say, Bill and John) are friends. But how could this be? In our dynamic field John and Bill are perceived in widely different parts of the field relative to our position and thus presumably relative to each other. They cannot be friends, yet the perceptiles indicate otherwise. Clearly, there is a troublesome inner inconsistency and perception can "add up" only if the field forces some perceptiles to different regions of the psychological space. That is, we may no longer perceive John as a friend and Bill as an enemy, or we may rationalize their friendship as, say, a necessity of John's job.

Figure 12.1

To clarify this relationship in the field, let the psychological space be defined as the proverbial one-dimensional person by one component as in Figure 12.1a. Consider the percipient as located on the dimension according to his personality, and on the dimension let John and Bill be perceived by the percipient as shown. For example, if the one component is conservatism-radicalism and the percipient is a radical, then John may be perceived as a radical and Bill as a conservative. Now, Figure 12. 1a shows a cognitively consistent situation, since the percipient can be John's friend and Bill's enemy and both are perceived as widely separate in this space. In Figure 12.1b the percipient is shown receiving the discrepant perceptile about John and Bill's friendship. To be friends, they must be close to each other, such as shown in the figure by "Bill." Yet it would be against the grain of our cultural matrix (most cultures would rule out logical contradictions) and perhaps against an innate presumption of the laws of identity and noncontradiction to have two different perceptions (Bill and "Bill") of the same person in the same field. Consequently, the field forces strain to bring Bill and "Bill" together. One way to do this is to reperceive our friendship with John, thus moving our percepts of John closer to those of Bill, as shown in Figure 12.1c. Or, we may reperceive our antagonism to Bill, thus moving our percepts of Bill to about where "Bill" is in Figure 12.1b. Finally, we may perceive Bill as really not friends with John at all, thus avoiding inconsistency.

Consider friendship as perceiving a person being close to us in our psychological space and denote this by a +. Consider antagonism as perceiving a person being far from us in our space and denote this by a -. Finally, let a friendship between two persons as perceived by a third be considered a +. That is, the two are perceived as close in the percipient's psychological space. These relationships
Figure 12.2
can be represented by a triangle as shown in Figure 12.2a, where the friendship between the percipient and John is shown by the positive line connecting the two, the antagonism between the percipient and Bill is shown by the negative line, and the perceptile carrying inward John and Bill's friendship is shown by the positive line between them. As displayed previously in Figure 12.1b, the triangular relationship is contradictory: the only way the relationship could fit into the percipient's dynamic field is for Bill to be split in two perceptually. Consequently, the field forces generated by this inconsistency battle the vector of power imposing this perceptile, they rework perception such that something like the relationship in Figure 12.2b may be perceived. That is, John and Bill may be perceived as really not friends; the appearance of friendship may be seen as simply a requirement of, say, John's job.

I have carried out this one example of a + - + relationship in detail so that the process would be intelligible and to show the importance of the psychological field in cognitive inconsistency. In a similar way, I would analyze unbalanced relationships of the type - - -, + + -, - + +, and the + - + which has been illustrated.

Consider a final, less detailed, example. Within his psychological space, an anti-Semite may have a consistent negative perception of Jews. However, imagine several positive perceptiles about Jews bearing on him, inconsistent with his past perception and perspective. Clearly, Jews, as a concept in his field, cannot be consistent with past negative perceptions placing "Jews" at one place in his field, and the new perceptile placing "Jew" elsewhere. To resolve the inconsistency, he may perceive the new perceptiles as pro-Jewish propaganda or he may alter his previous perceptions. Most likely, because his previous perceptions have been integrated (balanced) into his total perspective, he will transform the new perceptiles to be consistent with his negative view. Only a powerful barrage of positive perceptiles (as might happen, for example, if his daughter married a Jew) or an alteration in personality will transform previous perceptions.

Now, the essential nature of cognitive dissonance (or inconsistency) should be clear. Perceptions form a balanced configuration with each other and with the percipient in one's dynamic field--a balance of inner directed vectors of power and the percipient's opposing vector of perspective transformation. Perceptiles inconsistent with this balance generate forces on memory, on the percipient's perspective, and on the perceptiles to alter their location in the field such that a psychological balance is maintained among them all.

Now, who shall arbitrate?
Ten Men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow,
Slight what I receive.

----Robert Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra, XXII


* Scanned from Chapter 12 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. See section 21.5 of Chapter 21.

2. I am using cognitive dissonance as a general term to cover the distinct but similar theories of Fritz Heider, The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations (New York: Wiley, 1958); Theodore Newcombe, "Interpersonal Balance," in Robert P. Abelson et al. (eds.) Theories of Cognitive Consistency: A Sourcebook (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1968); Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957).

3. I am using the terminology developed in the previous chapters. The rationalization, models, or explanations for this process, such as Heider's (op. cit.) unit formation, Robert P. Abelson's implicational molecules ("Psychological Implications," in Abelson et al., op. cit., pp. 112-139), or William McGuire's cognitive "least squares" ("Theory of the Structure of Human Thought," in Abelson et al., op. cit., pp. 140-162) will not be discussed in the text. So far as I have seen in the literature, however, the dynamic field conception of perception developed here and its linkage to behavior to be shown subsequently, provide a coherent and explicit foundation for understanding and structuring the cognitive dissonance theories.

4. Remember that motivation subsumes attitudes, a term of wide currency in the cognitive inconsistency literature. See section 20.3 of Chapter 20 and the dynamic lattice.

since 11/26/02

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