Episode 63: Cognitive Dissonance, the Monty Hall Problem and a Possible Resolution?

Cognitive Dissonance – one of the most established and respected theories in psychology – is under attack. An economist – M. Keith Chen – uses what is called the “Monty Hall problem” to show that the research on cognitive dissonance may be seriously flawed. In this episode I explain Chen’s concerns about the research on and then I propose that a new study which uses neurofeedback to study cognitive dissonance may come to the rescue at just the right moment. Join me to find out how.


Here is the table from M. Keith Chen’s article, “Rationalization and Cognitive Dissonance: Do Choices Affect or Reflect Preferences?” that shows why, once a Monkey has chosen one letter over another (in this case letter A – which could be a red M&M – over letter B, the blue M&M), letter C is likely to be chosen.
Table from M. Keith Chen\'s article \"Rationalization and Cognitive Dissonance:  Do Choices Affect or Reflect Preferences? \"

Resources on Cognitive Dissonance

  • The original article on Cognitive Dissonance which used the “free choice paradigm” was Brehm, J. W. (1956) Postdecision changes in the desirability of alternatives, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 52, 384-9
  • The article Monty Hall Meets Cognitive Dissonance By John Tierney appeared in the Science section of the NYT on April 7, 2008.
  • Go Ahead, Rationalize. Monkeys Do It, Too.
  • And Behind Door No. 1, a Fatal Flaw – article appeared in the NYT on April 8, 2008
  • Behind Monty Hall’s Doors: Puzzle, Debate and Answer?
  • The online version of the game of the “Three Door” or “Monty Hall” problem can be found here.
  • M. Keith Chen’s homepage where you can download the working paper where he explains the problem with the “free choice paradigm” approach to measuring cognitive dissonance.
  • The research article I discussed in which subjects went through the free choice approach and then underwent biofeedback to reduce activity in the left frontal cortext is called,
    • Left Frontal Cortical Activation and Spreading of Alternatives: Tests of the Action-Based Model of Dissonance by Eddie Harmon-Jones and Cindy Harmon-Jones (Texas A&M University), Meghan Fearn, Jonathan D. Sigelman, and Peter Johnson (University of Wisconsin–Madison). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008, Vol. 94, No. 1, 1–15
    • The lead author’s homepage – Dr. Eddie Harmon-Jones – can be found here.

Related Episodes

Episode 10: Cognitive Dissonance Strikes Again! What your search on Amazon says about you

Here’s a unique example of cognitive dissonance theory: the information you pay attention to (and ignore) as you search around on Amazon.com How? Listen to The Psych Files podcast to find out. Cognitive dissonance strikes again!

Episode 8: Cognitive Dissonance Theory: Why Contradictions Bother Us So Much

Every since Leon Festinger gave us the term cognitive dissonance, we’ve been asking questions about contradictions in human behavior. For example, can you be pro choice and against the death penalty, or vice versa? That’s the question we examine this week along with other quandries such as Gingrichs’ affair and Al Gore’s house. This week on The Psych Files.


Quote of the week

Here on page 407 of The Story of Psychology is a quote from a report called When Prophecy Fails, published in 1956:

Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief and that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.

Videos of the week

Her’s the MSNBC report on the details of Al Gore’s home energy consumption which appears to be a case of dissonance with his stance on global warming.

In another case of dissonance, listen to Newt GinGrich explain why his affair during his prosecution of Clinton is, from his point of view, not relevant.

And in my last example of potential cognitive dissonance, listen to an interview of Dick Cheney by Wolf Blitzer. The conflict here is that Cheney’s administration does not support same sex marriage or bringing up children in a same-sex family, yet his daughter is pregnant and going to up the child in a same-sex partnership. Cheney says to Blitzer that the question is essentially “none of his business”, but you decide: clearly there is a contradiction here and that’s why we’re drawn to this situation. Like the other contradictions that we’ve talked about, it begs for resolution.


Watch a very interesting video about global warming and how it is causing a lot of people some cognitive dissonance. The video (about 3 min long) asks this question: can say that we want to “save the planet” and support other Earth Day type initiatives while at the same time feeling that we are entitled to drive any vehicle we want, or consume any and all goods we want?

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