Cognitive Dissonance Theories
“With correct diagnosis comes the possibility of a cure, and more importantly, hope.”
“Identify the cause and you will effect a cure.”
- – Anomymous
Additional Theories Supporting Chapman’s Argument
Chapman’s argument that anti-killer/tobacco campaigns using “scare” tactics are more effective gains additional support from two well-respected learning and attitude change theories. In his book Theories of Human Communication (1989). Stephen W. Littlejohn presents an examination of theories addressing cognition in social influence. He explains information integration theory, elaboration likelihood theory and consistency theory. Two of these theories, in particular, offer strong support for Chapman’s conclusions:
1. Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Littlejohn explains that “behavior change results from information that disrupts the balance of the cognitive system,” and he believes that Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance is “the most significant and influential consistency theory.” (See A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance by Leon Festingen, 1957)
2. Elaboration Likelihood Theory
Littlejohn finds the elaboration likelihood theory appealing because, “It is based on suggestions from several other approaches and seems to meet the challenge of research. (See Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change by Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo).
We know that the solution to a problem requires correct identification of its critical aspects. It also follows that solving a problem requires effectively addressing these critical aspects.
Science has correctly identified the critical aspects of tobacco as its poisonous, addictive, diseasing, lethal characteristics.
According to cognitive dissonance theory then, these most critical aspects – when incorporated into anti-killer/tobacco messages – would likely provoke more of the dissonance necessary to motivate cessation attempts.
Elaborate the Science
Petty and Cacioppo’s elaboration likelihood theory holds that a process of elaboration on the critical aspects of a problem is more likely to increase the dissonance that will result in the sought-after change of behavior. According to this theory then a claim that “smoking is bad for your health” is far less dissonance-producing than an elaboration of this claim stating that “heating up poisonous, addictive, diseasing, lethal tobacco smoke and sucking it into your lungs 200 to 400 times a day, every day, years on end, is bad for your health.”
Chapman’s argument claiming that it is: 1) more effective to focus on the damage to the body right now, and 2) even more effective to elaborate on this damaging process by “following the smoke inside the body” to show the actual damage taking place in the moment, not in the future, is clearly an application of both these respected theories, whether intended as such or not.
Chapman and his colleagues deserve recognition and acclaim for their persistent efforts encouraging societies around the world to correctly name the killer/tobacco industry for the despicable agent of deceit and death it truly is.