Religion and Cognitive Dissonance: Do They Coexist
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
Home |
The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
MCCLUNG, C. M. (1999). Religion and Cognitive Dissonance: Do They Coexist. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Religion and Cognitive Dissonance: Do They Coexist
CHRISTINE M. MCCLUNG
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
"Two elements are dissonant if, for one reason or another, they do not fit together" (Festinger 1957). This is a phrase that Leon Festinger uses in his book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. In this book, Festinger begins what turns out to be a very popular topic in psychology. Cognitive dissonance has been related to many topics. One topic that fits into this category is that of religion. Religion has always been a controversial topic. Even back before the birth of Jesus, people have had different opinions on the topic of religion. What I will try to establish is that cognitive dissonance can affect the viewpoints that people will have in review of religious viewpoints on certain areas. Most of the research in the area has supported this same idea. For this study, I plan to try to establish this relationship by delivering a form with topics that can be looked at in both societies viewpoint and by a religious viewpoint. The participants are those that belonged to general psychology courses at Missouri Western State College. Cognitive dissonance is established through presenting a religious innuendo to the participants and examining the responses in regard to the topics presented in the short story that follows the innuendo. The control group receives a short copy of some of the statutes and their answers were also examined. There were significant results found in three of the four areas that I chose to examine. Most of the results did support the literature that I found that dealt with the topics of religion and cognitive dissonance.

INTRODUCTION
Religion and Cognitive Dissonance: Do They Coexist? 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.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS
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.

MATERIALS
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).

PROCEDURE
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.


RESULTS
A 2x2 mixed design ANOVA was computed to see if there was a difference between the answers when the two stories were applied. The results show that there was a significant difference between the groups (F(1,56)=4.05, p=.049). This means that the people in the two different groups (the group that received the Ten Commandments and the group that received the statutes) responded differently when asked if the decisions that the couple made in regard to sex and abortion were wrong. There was also a significant difference between the way the stories affected the responses of the participants (F(1,56)=24.69, p<.001). This means that the participants responded that they thought that the decision to have an abortion was more wrong than the decision to have sex. The participants in group one (the group that received the statutes) answered that the decision to have sex was wrong 34.5 percent of the time and the decision to have an abortion was wrong 65.5 percent of the time. The participants in group two (the group that received the Ten Commandments) answered that the decision to have sex was wrong 48.3 percent of the time and the decision to have an abortion was wrong 89.7 percent of the time. There was no interaction between the groups and the answers on the abortion and the sex. (see Figure one). 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).


DISCUSSION
The results suggest that cognitive dissonance can effect religion in certain areas. There were significant results that when a religious innuendo (the Ten Commandments) was present the participants answered that both having sex and having an abortion was wrong compared to when there was just common laws present. There was also a significant difference between whether the participants thought the decision was wrong altogether. Most of the time the participants rated the abortion more wrong than the premarital sex. There were no significant results that when the innuendo was present the participants responded that they would or would not behave in the same manner. However, there was a significant difference in whether the participants would behave in the same manner in regards to abortion and having sex. More of the participants replied that they would also engage in premarital sex but would not have an abortion. This study supports most of the literature on religion and cognitive dissonance. The studies that I have looked at that directly looked at this relationship (Mahaffy`s study and Jenks` study) both found that cognitive dissonance is present in "religious" situations. Basically this says that when a topic is approached on the moral issue cognitive dissonance can appear. This study suggests that same idea. It showed that people who received the Ten Commandments they considered the options morally wrong. However, when there was an absence of the Ten Commandments the issues were not so wrong. This suggests that when the people were faced with a religious innuendo they felt an obligation to answer the question in the morally correct fashion. The control group answered differently than those which suggests that the experimental group was having disagreement within the conscience. As the literature states, when there is this disagreement either the behavior or the attitute is modified. Compared to the control group, the attitudes of the experimental group were altered to fit the situational behavior. 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.


REFERENCES
References 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.


APPENDIX A
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?Yes NoIf you were in Mary or John`s situation, would you do the same thing?Yes No

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?Yes NoIf you were in Mary or John`s situation, would you do the same thing?Yes No


APPENDIX B
Please circle the answer that best represents your feelings or behavior.1. How interested are you in religion?Very Interested Somewhat Interested Not Interested2. How important is religion to you?Very Important Somewhat Important Not Important3. How frequently do you participate in organized religious activities (attending church, attending church events, etc)?Very Often Somewhat Often Never4. How frequently do you participate in individual religious activities (praying)?Very Often Somewhat Often Never_______age_______gender_____________________________religious denomination (if any)


APPENDIX C
The Ten Commandments1. I am lord your God2. Thou shalt not have any other Gods3. Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain4. Keep the Sabbath Day holy5. Honor thy father and thy mother6. Thou shalt not kill7. Thou shalt not commit adultery8. Thou shalt not steal9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor10. 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 CAPTIONS
Figure 1. Mean scores of participants when asked if the decision to engage in premarital sex and to have an abortion is wrong. The scores were compared based on whether they received statutes on abortion or the Ten Commandments.

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.


Figure 1


Figure 2

Submitted 5/3/99 1:43:22 PM
Last Edited 5/3/99 2:19:32 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

Rated by 0 users. Users who logon can rate manuscripts and write reviews.

© 2017 National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse. All rights reserved. The National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse is not responsible for the content posted on this site. If you discover material that violates copyright law, please notify the administrator. This site receives money through the Google AdSense program when users are directed to useful commercial sites. We do not encourage or condone clicking on the displayed ads unless you have a legitimate interest in the advertisement.