Change Psychology: Counter-Attitudinal Advocacy

recently wrote about building up a resource for Change knowledge here within this very Blog. Finally I got the time to deal with some basic psychological questions of Change. I am looking forward to be able to share those insights on “Change Psychology” with you, here.

Sometimes people will state an opinion or otherwise support a point of view that is actually against their own beliefs.

For example, where we tell white lies in order to help other people or where stating our beliefs could harm us. When we do this, we will seek to reduce dissonance by justifying our actions. If we cannot find external justification, we will seek internal justification. This then leads to us change our beliefs.

Counter-Attitudinal Advocacy is particularly effective where it is difficult for the person to later deny that the dissonance-causing behavior actually took place. Thus written (and especially signed) statements and public activities can be powerful tools of persuasion.

Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) got experiment participants to do a boring task and then tell a white lie about how enjoyable it was. Some were paid $1, others were paid $20. Later, they were asked openly how much they had enjoyed the task. Those who were paid $20 said it was boring. Those who had been paid $1 rated the task as significantly more enjoyable.

Counter-Attitudinal Advocacy has been extensively used for brainwashing, both with prisoners-of-war and peacetime cult members. It usually is done by making incrementally escalating requests. Small rewards are offered, which are too small for the victims to use to attribute their behavior change to, thus forcing internal attribution.

Using it
Get people to agree with you, perhaps on a small point, about something which you want to persuade them. Ensure there is no significant external justification. After a while, their beliefs will change.

Psychology of Change (Picture source: Original article taken from
Psychology of Change (Picture source:
Original article taken from

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