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|The Art of Self-justification - Page 2|
The psychologists who wrote this book have a certain pedigree. Carol Tavris is a respected writer who reports on psychology for popular audiences. Her well-known book Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, published 20 years ago, helped put the lie to the nonsense that getting angry is therapeutic (most of the time, expressing anger only makes you angrier). Elliot Aronson is one of the world's most prominent social psychologists—the only psychologist to have won all three of the American Psychological Association's top awards. As one of Festinger's graduate students, he was there at the inception (well, nearly) of the work that put cognitive dissonance on the map.
Sure, cognitive dissonance is a great theory, and it produces terrific yarns. It's had 50 years to fill its war chest with compelling data. But it's fair to ask the question of even the most readable of books and most distinguished of authors: why reintroduce readers to this familiar theory? Why now? Simply to celebrate its 50th anniversary?
That's one reason given by Aronson. But I think there are two other answers to this question. First, cognitive dissonance was the product of a once-great academic specialty we no longer hear so much about: social psychology, the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual or imagined presence of others. You probably recall other memorable social psychology experiments from Psych 101 class: Stanley Milgram's famous authority experiment, in which he got ordinary people to follow orders, even though they hated doing so and thought they were harming others. Or Philip Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment, in which student "guards" quickly began to abuse their fellow student "prisoners." These experiments seemed to make a powerful case that, given the right social conditions, ordinary people can be induced to do things they'd never dream of doing by themselves.