Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It’s NOT about the money, money, money!

Q: How do you increase job satisfaction for a very dull, monotonous task?
A: Pay them less…?!...

Festinger & Carlsmith (1959) proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance in order to explain compliance behaviour to requests as a need to ensure our beliefs and behaviours are consistent. When we carry out behaviour inconsistent to our beliefs, we may alter our beliefs to match the behaviour.

To test this, Festinger & Carlsmith took several groups of participants, made them carry out a very boring and monotonous task – all in the name of science – paying them either $1 or $20 and asked them to try to convince the following participant that the experiment was in fact highly enjoyable.

Common sense would have us predict that those in the $20 condition would be more convincing in telling others that the experiment was enjoyable as they came away with a decent reward. However, results show (Table 1) that in fact those in the $1 condition rated the task as more enjoyable, more important to science and would be more likely to participate in a similar boring experiment!

According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, those in the $20 condition were able to justify their behaviour with the reward for $20 and so admitted to finding the task boring. However, those in the $1 condition were faced with greater cognitive dissonance as they were unable to use monetary gains as justification of their actions and so created a justification of task enjoyment.

Probably most applicable in practice and important to note from this research is that participants opted to change their views to fit behaviours which have been requested of the and not freely chosen. Thus in terms of application for changing people’s attitudes and encouraging compliance, simply getting someone to perform a behaviour may be enough and effects will likely be more profound if no clear justification (i.e. money) is given. 

For example, a child who is sent to visit an old grandparent whom they find boring may be more likely to continue the behaviour of their own accord than if they are bribed with lots of sweets. The child may justify their behaviour as enjoying visiting their grandparent, rather than simply as a hoop to jump through to get a sugar fix and so adjust their future behaviour to fit this schema.


Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58(2), 203-210.

Fiona Angell

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