Self-standards Model of Cognitive Dissonance


Self-standards model (SSM) was proposed to integrate competing theories of self-relevant thoughts of cognitive dissonance. Among many, the following three stood in the center of the debate

  • Self-consistent theory/Self as expectancy The theory suggests that dissonance arises when the behavior differ from the expectation based on self-attributes. And the reduction is through self-justification of behavior while maintaining self-expectancies.
    • The theory thus suggests that people with low self-esteem or mild depression do not experience dissonance when their behavior is at odds with socially acceptable standards.
  • Self-affirmation theory/Self as resource Similar to self-consistent theory, self-affirmation theory suggests that dissonance occurs when the behavior threatens one’s self concept. In contrast to the former, self-affirmation theory asserts that the self-system is global in the sense that the goal of dissonance reduction is not to savage a specific self-image endangered by the discrepant behavior but to recover the overall system.
    • Despite its seemingly similarity to the self-consistent theory, self-affirmation theory makes vastly different predictions on the role of self-esteem in dissonance. According to its perspective, people with high self-esteem are less vulnerable to dissonance because self-reflection provides them with more affirmations of their competence/morality, which in turn reduces the need of self-justification.
  • New look model/Self as irrelevance New look suggests that dissonance is aroused when the behavior violates normative or socially acceptable norms/standards.

SSM incorporates all three models above at the cost of complicating the framework quite a lot. In short it specifies conditions for which theories/procedures are relevant at different stage of the process.

  1. The behavior can be evaluated by social or personal standards depending on the contexts and cues. For the former, the evaluation will be nomothetic thus will not be moderated by self-esteem (New look theory).
  2. If the evaluation is idiographic and no other cognitions of self are accessible, self-justification will be sought to reduce the dissonance. What if other cognitions are accessible?
  3. If the accessible cognition is positive and relevant, then it serves as an expectancy. As a result, high self-esteem people will show more self-justification than low self-esteem ones. (Self-consistent theory).
  4. If the accessible cognition is positive, irrelevant, and self-descriptive, then it serves as a resource. Consequently, high self-esteem people will show less self-justification than low self-esteem ones. (Self-affirmation theory).
    • If the cognition is not self-descriptive, people still have to seek self-justification to reduce dissonance.
    • Caveat: people with high self-esteem are more likely to perceive positive traits as self-descriptive.

[1]Stone, Jeff, and Joel Cooper. “A self-standards model of cognitive dissonance.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 37.3 (2001): 228-243.
[2]Cooper, Joel. Cognitive dissonance: 50 years of a classic theory. Sage, 2007.
P.S. The flow of this entry follows closely to [1] as I personally think that it provides a more concise yet logical history of the development of SSM while [2] is decorated with more empirical/experimental evidences that motivated the development.


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