Reducing fears and increasing assertiveness: The role of dissonance reduction

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Abstract

In the research paradigm known as effort justification, people engage in an effortful activity in order to attain a goal. As a result, the goal becomes more attractive. Two experiments were conducted to test the notion that the effort justification sequence can account for the positive changes that result from psychotherapy. In the first experiment, subjects who were afraid to approach a snake underwent one of two types of effortful therapy. One was a modified form of an anxiety-producing therapy known as "implosive therapy"; the other was merely a set of physical exercises. It was reasoned, on the basis of cognitive dissonance theory, that the expenditure of effort would lead to a positive change in the ability to approach the snake but only under conditions of high decision freedom. Half of the subjects in each of the therapy conditions participated with high choice; the other half with low choice. Subjects' improvement in their approach to snakes was assessed. A main effect for decision freedom was predicted and found independently of the type of effort that subjects expended. A second experiment conceptually replicated the findings of the first experiment. Subjects who wanted to become more assertive participated in an effortful, physical exercise therapy or in a modified form of the standard treatment for fear of assertiveness. The results of the 2 × 2 factorial experiment again showed a main effect for decision freedom such that high choice subjects became more assertive. The findings were discussed in terms of dissonance and attribution theories as well as for implications for future consideration of psychotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-213
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume16
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1980

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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