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Self-Perception Theory

Explanations > Theories > Self-Perception Theory

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References

Description
People decide on their own attitudes and feelings from watching themselves behave in
various situations. This is particularly true when internal cues are so weak or confusing
they effectively put the person in the same position as an external observer.

Self-Perception Theory provides an alternative explanation for cognitive dissonance
effects. For example Festinger and Carlsmith's experiment where people were paid $1 or
$20 to lie. Cognitive dissonance says that people felt bad about lying for $1 because they
could not justify the act. Self-perception takes an 'observer's view, concluding that those
who were paid $1 must have really enjoyed it (because $1 does not justify the act) whilst
those who were paid $20 were just doing it for the money.

Note that this indicates how changing people's attitudes happens only when two factors
are present:

 They are aroused, feeling the discomfort of dissonance.
 They attribute the cause of this to their own behaviors and attitudes.

Research
Zanna and Cooper gave people a placebo pill and asked them to perform a counter-
attitudinal activity. Control people who were told the pill was a placebo did as expected,
becoming more supportive of the attitude (because they had enacted it). Others, who were
told that the pill would make them tense, did not change their attitude, as they could
attribute their dissonance to the effects of the pill.

Example
If you hear a lot of rock music and do not particularly dislike it, you will probably
conclude that you do like it.

So what?

you will need to call the view into doubt. ask yourself what they could gain by your believing something about yourself in this matter. Cognitive Dissonance. for example by giving disconfirming examples. This works best when they have no particular view about the area in question. Zanna and Cooper (1974) . Cognitive Appraisal Theories of Emotion. Personal Validation Fallacy References Bem (1972). Festinger and Carlsmith (1959). first get them to do it. If they already have a strong view. Defending When people ask you to do things about which you have no clear view.Using it If you want someone to believe or feel something about themselves. See also Attribution Theory.