Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith proposed the term cognitive dissonance which is Every individual has his or her Festinger, L. and Carlsmith, J. M. ( ). The following article by Leon Festinger and James M. Carlsmith is the classic study on Reprinted from Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, , 58, . Forced compliance theory is a paradigm that is closely related to cognitive dissonance theory. Leon Festinger and James M. Carlsmith () conducted an experiment entitled “Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance”. This study.

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In Festinger and Carlsmith’s classic study, undergraduate students of Introductory Psychology at Stanford University were asked, during the first week of the course, to take part of a series of experiments.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory | Simply Psychology

It was explained that, since students were required to serve in experiments, the Department of Psychology was conducting a study to evaluate these experiments in order to be able to improve them in the future.

It was expected that a sample of students would be interviewed after having served as participants in the experiments. Students were urged to cooperate in these interviews by being completely and honest. Festinger and Carlsmith’s study focussed its attention on 71 male students who participated in an experiment allegedly dealing with “Measures of Performance. The experimenter explained that the experiment itself usually took a little over an hour to conduct but was scheduled for two hours giving some people from Introductory Psychology an opportunity to interview some of the participants afterwards.

The 71 students concerned were required to perform repetitive tasks. These tasks, which the researchers intended to seem boring and meaningless, typically consisted of an initial half-hour of putting 12 spools onto a tray, fextinger the tray, refilling it with spools, and so on, using one hand only.

Then a second half-hour was spent turning 48 square pegs mounted on a board by clockwise quarter-turns. The subject was to again use one hand fextinger, to work at their own pace, and to begin again the process of turning peg 1 when peg 48 had been reached.

Whilst each student was performing these tasks an experimenter was present in the room with a stop watch and a pad upon which notes were made. At the end of these two tasks the experimenter then ‘explained’ the background to the experiment to the student.

The student was told that he was actually part of a control group who were asked to perform the tasks without much in the way of introduction as to the tasks themselves or as to how enjoyable they were.


These was another group of subjects – “Group B”, however, who were introduced to the tasks by an associate of the festinber. This associate was presented to “Group B” students taking part in the experiment as being another student carlsmihh had just finished his own experimental session. The experimenter portrayed this associate as giving a positive introduction to the experiment relaying a brief outline of the tasks and of presenting them as being enjoyable and interesting to the subjects who were just about to perform tasks themselves.

A sheet of paper headed “For Group B” was shown by the experimenter to the subject which outlined a role this associate was expected to perform in conveying enthusiam for the experimental tasks. The experimenter told the subject that the “Measures of Performance” experiment was looking into the relative performance of those who had been given no introduction to those in Group B who had been given the positive introduction.

All 71 ad the students received this same treatment of a short wait in the secretary’s office, of performing the two tasks, and then of the ‘explanation’ being offered about their own role being that of being part carlzmith a control group in contradistinction to others who had experienced a positive introduction to the tasks by the experimenter’s associate.

Cognitive Dissonance

Each festinter was asked to again wait in the secretary’s office to see if people from Introductory Psychology did indeed wish to interview him in order to glean information that might help in the better implementation of experimental programs in the future. Festinger and Carlsmith’s study now began to treat the 71 subjects in different ways such as to investigate the cognitive consequences of induced compliance to see whether there would be any evidence of Cognitive Dissonance, where the student concerned was psychologically di-stressed between his actual views and the role abd found himself taking on in compliance with the performance of the tasks set by the experimenter.

After a delay of several minutes the experimenter returned to the secretary’s office. About a third of subjects were released from efstinger experiment at this point after being thanked by the experimenter, who also expressed the hope that the subject had enjoyed the experiencecarls,ith being interviewed by someone from the psychology department ostensibly with the view of improving the presentation of experiments in the future.

Festinger & Carlsmith Cognitive dissonance consequences of forced compliance

These were Festinger and Carlsmith’s actual ‘control’ group. The other two-thirds however went through a procedure where a slightly embarrassed seeming and hesitant experimenter asked them for a favour.

A scenario was presented where the experimenter’s usual associate had been unable to attend for an upcoming session where a positive introduction to the tasks was to be given to the next subject. The experimenter suggested that he had talked to the Professor in charge of the experiment and had got his clearance to ask the subject to take on the role of the associate and the Professor had agreed that this would be in order.


Forced compliance theory

The experimented stressed that acceptance would oblige and might lead to future involvements in experiments if the associate was again unavailable. Carksmith hesitancy on the part of the subject was eroded by further encouragement from the experimenter. Once the subject did agree the sheet of paper headed “For Group B”, and outlining the enthusiastic introduction to the tasks to be given by the associate to Group B subjects, was again shown to the subject who was obliging the experimenter through his co-operation.

The fee was paid and a receipt was cadlsmith by the subject.

The subject was then told that the experimenter ‘thought’ that the next “Group B” subject actually another associate of the experimenter was female and was waiting to be given the positive introduction to the tasks ahead.

The subject was then taken into the secretary’s room where he was expected to converse with carlsmth “next subject” with the view of attempting to get across the points that he had read on the sheet of paper headed “For Group B. The experimenter again brought up the possibility of someone from Introductory Psychology wanting to interview the subject. It was at this point that the treatment of the three groups of subjects i.

At the interviewer’s office door the experimenter asked the interviewer whether he wished to interview the subject.

A positive answer was given and the experimenter again thanked fesginger subject and left. There were four areas of inquiry through an initial discussion and then with the student being invited to give a rating figure: Did the experiment give the subject an opportunity to learn about their own abilities?

Rating scale 0 to Would the subject cqrlsmith that the experiment as he had experienced it was actually likely to measure anything important?

Would the subject have any desire to participate in another similar experiment?