Cognitive Dissonance Theory The American Work Place, A Modern Day Indenturement

One hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch.

“Just the thing to quench my thirst,” said he.

Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a ne, two, three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.  -Aesop

The current day American worker is enslaved to their debt, sustenance and economic frailty—unable to or unwilling too leave from abusive, poor, underpaid, exploitative or demoralizing working conditions in large part due to the overall American socio-economic situation left in the wake of the banking, corporate and government’s inability to continue staging and cloaking of their failures, thus poising Americans for an economy crashing under its own weight and crushing the individuals whose faith had helped to build it.

As Americans bellowed for reform and the end to a war that felt so far removed from their own life’s the political culture singed as the weakened threads that created comfort and feelings of confidence, support and economic foundation in their country snapped bringing their America closer to rock bottom. Snapping threads dangling over economic depression dropped too quick for any anticipation from a chaotic political culture and economic shift from what was the livelihood, sustenance, and jobs that Americans so proudly prospered from at the doors of posh mansions and over priced and ill-appraised real estate were to in the period of 12-months cease to exist. In September 2008 the America they saw as strong, superior, and economically sound and savvy was unable to conceal the breaking strands and thinning threads, which suspended Americans above what they saw as the rest of the world. The differences were about to be diffused, the world markets toppling and Americans living as countless others, in countries beyond their borders—no food, depleting resources and no way of generating income. This is the world Americans were introduced to after the election of 2008 and with it other problems arose.  Let’s look at the Americans who were able to keep their jobs in a corporate culture looking to trim any appendages, which would still allow them to live on. Unemployment soared and few and scattered part-time entry-level jobs were scavenged by former Directors, chiefs, managers and individuals with higher education degrees.

Waddell and McKeena (2008) found an increase in cognitive dissonance for working managers of whom extra working hours were expected and their work-life-balance resulting in an alteration of states of compromise, avoidance, self-justification, and confusion as they negotiate their claims of choice and control in their own lives. This dissonance exists for the working person in America today as can be inferred from a November 2010 national telephone survey of Employed Adults by Rasmussen Reports, which found that 72% of working adults say they have been working at their current employer more than five years and 51% believe that they will have a better opportunity for advancement within their current organization and according to data from a Gallup’s April 2010 survey one in five Americans fear losing their job in the next 12 months.

The April 2010 Gallup’s survey also indicates that only 42% of American workers believe that they are “Very, somewhat or likely” to find another job as good as the one they have and 44% indicate that if they lost their jobs they would only be able to go for about a month before encountering hardship.  The high job insecurity and feelings of uncertainty about finding a new job place American workers in destitute working situations from which they are only able to realign their feelings and attitudes about to continue in working conditions that are stressful, uncertain and often negative detrimental to their well being.

The negative sentiments and economic uncertainty is not only limited to the American worker under a company but also to the entrepreneurs and small business owners who according to survey data from July 2010 collected by Gallup place 47% of those owners as indicating they “now plan to never retire until forced to do so for health reasons.” Like-it-or-not many Americans feel bound to their jobs and many try very hard to have success with their business, visit for more information.

The like-it-or-not feelings and attitudes of Americans in regards to their job situations is not reflective of complacency or the lack of desire but it is linked to their large economic stress, job insecurity and the doubts of being able to find a better job. The hours and days pass behind office walls, drive through windows, cashier stations and lines of public insisting on service and these workers look to justify their situation and find the need to compromise and self-justify their behaviors and continued subservience to their employers. The thoughts of adjustment, compromises and self-justification are the collateral efforts of the mind and body’s attempt to reduce the dissonance or friction experienced between the attitude and the actual behavior of the individual. The American worker changes their tune from “I don’t like my job,” “this job is below me,” and “I hate it here” to “I’m here by choice” or “It’s not a bad place – it has it’s ups and downs like all places” in order to satisfy a psychological need. This attitude adjustment or reducing of friction is formally recognized as cognitive dissonance theory as mentioned, in Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes and Contexts, by Miller is the 1957 work of Leon Festinger.

Cognitive dissonance theory as observed by Festinger describes the decisions people make and the actions to minimize the amount of contradictory beliefs they have in their head. Miller states, “When a person is forced to believe two things that don’t match up, they experience extreme emotional discomfort unit they can fix their belief system – they experience dissonance.”

Furthermore, it is noted that the need of the individuals for consistency between their attitudes and behaviors is key in understanding the implications of Festinger’s theory and that individuals typically keep consistency by exposing themselves to messages consistent with their attitude.

In A First Look at Communication Theory Em Griffin describes that Festinger considered the human need to avoid dissonance as basic as the need for safety or the need to satisfy hunger. The magnitude of dissonance felt by individual’s increases the more importance the issue has and the greater the discrepancy between behavior and belief are (Griffin 2008).

According to Griffin, Festinger’s third hypothesis is “Minimal justification for action induces a shift in attitude” which can describe what is occurring in the American workplace with employees.  Applying cognitive dissonance theory and Festinger’s third hypothesis to the current American workers situation the public can understand that the best way to stimulate employees to work longer and harder is to get them to work. Festinger elaborates that the following condition must exist: With reduced wages and benefits already in place to compensate for the employees hard work the employer and the economy only need to highlight the high unemployment numbers, layoffs, downsizing and surplus of job applicants for the employee to work harder. Just enough reward will elicit overt compliance (Griffin 2008).

The Rasmussen’s Employment Index for November 2010 indicates that twenty-eight percent of working Americans say they are worried about losing their jobs and seventy-six percent of workers now say they are happy with their current jobs. While the percentage of workers worried about a job loss remains high and even higher number of workers feels happy we can infer from Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory that the reason for this higher percentage is related to the psychological need to lessen the amount of dissonance between their actual feelings and the behavior they are tied to continue with. The need for self-justification and compromise limits the real feelings of the American worker and indexes the adjustment occurring as explained by cognitive dissonance theory. Consider Gallup‘s findings for September 2010, which say that 88% of Americans the present time is a bad time for find a quality job.  With these staggering statistics it is not hard to accept the theoretical implications to explain why even in negative and tough working conditions Americans bind themselves to their jobs and attempt to provide justification for their continued employment and shift to their “like-it-or-not” but I am here making the best of it attitude.

In 1972 Daryl Bem criticized Festinger’s theory and proposed self-perception theory as an alternative explanation to the results found by Festinger. Bem contends that people do not take their attitudes into consideration and let alone if they are in conflict and attributed the behavioral response as inferring their attitudes from their behaviors and that others respond because of a salient or external behavior.

Cognition of the theoretical implications of cognitive dissonance to the American worker allows them to be aware of the potential downfalls of their reasoning and emotional responses to the situations they must endure. Being able to fully distinguish real satisfaction from a modified compromising attitude is part of the process in self-educating, denial is a step that must first be acknowledged and the truth of the matter accepted so that growth, understanding and evolution take place. Understanding of the theoretical progression also allows the employee to be discerning to workplace propaganda that may be used to thwart request for pay increase, workload reduction, work time requirements or benefit increases. The fear created by the economy and the risk of being on unemployment can be debilitating leading to worker submission.


  1. Waddell, N., & McKenna, B. (2008). Manager’s extended working hours: The cognitive dissonance of institutional expectation and individual obligation. International Communication Association, 1-29.
  2. Bem DJ (1972). Self-Perception Theory. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 6, pp.1-62). New York: Academic Press.
  3. Miller, K. (2005). Communication theories: Perspectives, processes and contexts (Second ed., pp. 124-127). New York: McGraw Hill.
  4. Jones, J. M. (2010). Americans Say Jobs Top Problem Now, Deficit in Future Economy, healthcare remain prominent concerns. Gallup. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from
  5. Rasmussen Inc. (2010). Rasmussen Employment Index Moves to Another Recent High. Asbury Park, NJ: Rasmussen Reports. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from A
  6. Rasmussen Inc. (2010). Most Workers Say Current Company Offers Best Opportunity for Advancement. Author. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from B
  7. Jacobe, D. (2010). Recession or Not, U.S. Job Market Woes Persist Unemployment rate as measured by Gallup is increasing. Gallup. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from
  8. Jacobe, D. (2010). One in Five Americans Fear Job Loss in Next 12 Months. Gallup. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from
  9. Griffin, E. (2008). A First Look at Communication Theory (Sixth ed., pp. 206-508). New York: McGraw Hill.
  10. Festinger, L. & Carlsmith, J.M. (1959). Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203-210.

Gidden’s structuration theory vs. Taylor’s theory of text and conversation.

Structuration theory as developed by Gidden’s distinguishes between systems such as small groups and structures the practices rules, norms and other resources the system makes use of to work and continue existing.  Small groups are viewed as the products of structures and also produce structures themselves.

Members of the small group must follow rules that lead to the production of some sort of outcome and that outcome will eventually influence the group’s future interactions. Structuration refers to the very processes the group member’s employ. The focus goes beyond the group as a whole and places emphasis on the structuration process itself in which group members negotiate group structures and procedures based on their efficacy.

However, to date structuration theory has not provided a way of predicting what structures will be the result of what circumstances. Also, as group structures continue evolving it is difficult to identify which structural changes occurred and when they occurred when observing day-to-day interactions.

Taylor’s theory of text and conversation is not focused on the small group that come from structures or the structures developed by small groups it takes aim at explaining organizational communication within itself and stemming from the organization to the outside. The organization is seen as not being objective and is not less real but not real in the material sense. Text is defined, as the content of interaction or what is being said in interaction and conversation is the communicative interaction itself. The process takes place in progressive stages of translation from text to conversation, from conversation to text and from text and conversation to organizational communication. While this process of communication may take place within the structuration of small groups it is not a process or phenomena that defines the same observations.

Both theories reveal an internal process within a group and the internal development of communication and the recursive relationship between interaction and structure and the tension between enablement and constraint.

The interview process is typically one that has resulted from the structuration of a small group created within the organizational structure. (i.e. recruiting team or HR department). The specific process job opening, job requirements, application screening, candidate interviews and candidate selection has developed and changed as the small group overseeing it has evolved and found more efficient or beneficial ways of conducting this process. The actual interview itself will be guided by a series of questions that have been agreed upon by the structuration process and will yield answers and information from the candidate that best allows the person interviewing to ascertain if that candidate is the most appropriate for them.

As the interview process itself is underway the conversation being held is representative of the text and conversation theory as the content being shared in the conversation is the text. The questions asked are translated from text to conversation and the interviewee responses are then translated from conversation to text and so forth. While the processes involved not directly linked they are complimentary to the continued communication and development of the small group and the organization as whole.

My professor, a normal person and what of expectancy violation theory.

Burgoon (1988) developed expectancy violation theory as a theory of non-verbal behavior centering on the behavioral expectations we have about others and what interactions with others should be like. The theory holds that if our expected behavior is violated outside of acceptable threshold levels our attention is diverted to that individual (arousal occurs) and the impact of the violation is evaluated by two factors. One of the factors is the assessment of the person commuting the violation and if it is an individual whom has a high communicator reward valence then the violation is seen as less or acceptable. If the violation is within the range of tolerability the behavior is assimilated into expected behavior patterns.

In the proposed scenario encountering my professor at the local undergraduate bar would be noteworthy because it is not behavior that is stereotypically associated with a professor. Professors are often seen to only inhabit that professional, serious and academic personality and coming upon them in this scene would be outside of the expectations set for them. If the professor’s behavior was to be wild, reckless or inline with undergraduates binge drinking my behavioral expectations would be severely violated and my reaction may include a change in perception from respected to irresponsible and could impact the classroom interaction by removing the initial professional description and attribution. However, if the professor was highly liked by me and I assigned a high CRV value to them and their behavior in the bar would not be extreme the behavior violation would be excused.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Purchases

Festinger’s Cognitive dissonance theory places emphasis on the ways in which behavior influences attitude. Individuals have a need for consistency between their attitude and behavior. In the context of the scenario of having purchased a car and after the fact coming across another which I like better, because I have already purchased a vehicle and am tied to that purchase cognitive dissonance theory predicts that I would adjust my attitude to be in line with my action or behavior of having purchased the car I like less. I would begin to create reason to justify my purchase and emphasize why the other vehicle would have not been the right decision. The level of dissonance between my purchase and feelings must be lessened so that I can feel consistency between them. I may make arguments about how the color of my purchase is more me, or how the cost factor is more economical with my purchase or how too many people have that other car.

Important processes in cognitive theories of communication.

Constructivism: The cognitive processes that precede communication are the focus of constructivist theory. It is important to understand the influence human perception plays in the skillful production and interpretation of socially influential messages. Theory argues that human cognitive systems can be defined as construct systems; cognitive complexity, varying construct domains, levels of construct differentiation and the interpersonal construct system which are the overarching domains of construct systems. While people make sense of the world through constructs serving as the basic building blocks of cognitive organization they can also be joined by interpretive schemes. The joining and connecting of constructs aligns with Werner’s orthogenetic principle that holds cognitive systems as following a developmental trajectory.


Related theory of message design logics: O’Keefe (1988) poses three types of message design logic (expressive, conventional and rhetorical) that individuals use to deal with conflicting goals. Expressive design logic shows the view of communication being a straightforward cognitive process of encoding thoughts and feelings; these messages are literal and direct. The view that interaction is cooperative and undertaken according to rules, conventions and procedures is the process of conventional design logic. While the view that communications purpose is to structure and create reality is the rhetorical design logic. In RDL communication serves to define the situation in a manner that facilitates the meeting of multiple face goals.


Action assembly theory: The connection between cognition and behavior is examined by action assembly theory. More specifically the process looks at the retrieval of an individual’s procedural record from long term memory and the manner in which that record is connected to the nodes that it is composed of and how those nodes and their organization help to form an output or action by the individual. The nodes held in each record hold procedural information about action, outcomes and situations and the individual recalls these and activates them as they encounter situations, which match them.


Theories of plans and goals: Dillard’s development of primary and secondary goals serves to better understand the communication interaction between individuals and to identify what a person is trying to accomplish in the interaction. The very process of cognition is linked to message production when considering goals and directives, bearing this in mind we merge the planning process into the development of our goals as they are the destination of communicative interaction.

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