Real Life Examples of Cognitive Dissonance: Spotify and Bernie Sanders

Updated on June 5, 2018
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Nicholas is a student at Georgetown University. He is interested in international relations, global health, history, and literature.

Cognitive Dissonance Cartoon
Cognitive Dissonance Cartoon | Source

What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

Each day, we encounter situations that involve conflicting beliefs, behaviors, or attitudes which produce feelings of discomfort in our minds, causing us to alter one of the beliefs, behaviors, or attitudes in order to reduce said discomfort. This discomfort is known as cognitive dissonance. In short, the conflict between the ideas or actions force us to seek some way out of it. Often, these come in the form of self-justification dynamics that allow us to continue to act out the behavior or keep the thought. Psychologists theorize that people dislike the disharmony and will seek efforts to reduce it or ignore it all together.

How Cognitive Dissonance Changes Us
How Cognitive Dissonance Changes Us | Source

What Is the "Foot in the Door" Technique?

Such self-justification dynamics are seen particularly in the “foot in the door" technique. This technique relies upon both cognitive dissonance and the dynamic of consistency that exists as a part of our thinking process. The foot in the door technique involves someone first asking a simple request that another person accepts. Next, a larger request is made and the person in question is more likely to agree to this even if they would not have initially. Since a denial of the second request would create cognitive dissonance, the person maintains consistency and therefore reduces the dissonance. This is a popular technique often seen in advertising, the media, and our daily interactions with other people.

Source

How Spotify Manipulates You as a Consumer

As a person who attempts to remain polite and consistent in my decisions, I have encountered the foot in the door technique multiple times. One such instance was when Spotify, a music sharing company, asked me to sign up for a free trial of their premium service. Since I was sick of the advertisements and limited capabilities that the non-premium account offered, I said “yes” to this small request for something that would not cost me a cent. Of course, you have to enter your credit card information when you sign up for the free trial -- just in case you forget to cancel it. When it came time for my free month to be up and they asked whether I would be continuing my subscription, I said “yes” in order to continue the bond I had already made. Backing out then after using them for their free trial felt immoral and it was easier to just comply with their second, larger request that would actually cost me money. Even though it pains me each month when I am charged $14, all thanks to agreeing to a simple free trial I still continue to be a paying member of the premium music service.

“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.”

— Andrew Davis

How Political Campaigns Manipulate You as a Voter

Another instance in which I witnessed the foot in the door technique in action was when I signed a petition to get Bernie Sanders on the ballot early on in the presidential election process. After making this small commitment and expression of my support, I was added to an email list and was suddenly receiving countless messages about how I could further show my support for Sanders and help him win the nomination. They sent me links to the campaign store and I soon found myself shopping for a t-shirt. I decided to purchase a shirt -- all due to the small commitment I made just by typing my name into a website. Before I knew it, I had spent $25 on a Union-made, Bernie Sanders shirt. Somehow the local campaigners received my phone number after this purchase, and I began to receive occasional texts from local supporters asking my to canvass door-to-door for Sanders or phonebank at the Lakewood office. I already felt very invested in the campaign, so although this would cost me time and effort I let them know that I would bring a friend and help them the next time they needed it. A small commitment in the beginning that took just seconds turned into both a monetary expense and a larger time commitment down the line.

Source

Why Do We Give in?

Despite the small requests being independent of the subsequent larger ones, going back on my word and changing my viewpoint would create dissonance. It would be much easier to live with myself if I stuck to my guns and went along with what I had previously invested in. So although I may not have wanted to purchase Spotify premium right away or just gone canvassing for Bernie Sanders if they asked me that first, the smaller request reeled me in. The dynamic of consistency provides cognitive harmony which therefore influenced my actions, much like those seen in the studies done by psychologists on this technique.

Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief.

— Frantz Fanon

Can you think of a time a company or campaign used the foot in the door technique on you?

See results

© 2018 Nicholas Weissman

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