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The Social Animal

Cognitive dissonance is one of the major fields of social psychology. It is basically based on a discomfort that is caused when an individual holds conflicting cognitions in terms of emotional reactions, beliefs, values and ideas (Aronson, 1980). The theory, therefore, brings out a proposal that people will always have a motivational drive intended to reduce dissonance; this is done by altering existing cognitions. It may also be done by reducing the importance accorded to any of the dissonant elements or even creating a consistent belief system. Various experiments have been done along this field to establish some elements of cognitive dissonance and its corrective or adaptive measures.

In The Social Animal by Aaronson, he uses a variant based on the induced compliance paradigm referred to as the forbidden toy paradigm. This experiment is meant to examine self-justification in children. In the experiment, a variety of toys were set up in a room, and children were left there (Aronson, 1980). Upon leaving the room, the experimenter told half of the children that there would be a severe punishment if they will touch a particular set of toys. The other half was told that the punishment for touching the toys would be mild. All the children followed the conditions and did not touch the toys they were warned about. Later, the experimenter came in and lifted the conditions allowing them to play with whatever toy they wanted.  Those who were mildly warned were less likely to play with the warned toy. This is because they convinced themselves that, after all, the toy was worth playing with and this resolved their dissonance.

My hypothesis states that students will only perform better with the promise of a reward. Without reward and motivation it is difficult for students to strive hard and achieve targets set in an exam situation. Reward is, therefore, important in ensuring the success of the students.

This experiment is going to follow on the same paradigm that is induced by compliance paradigm. In this case, students will be subjected to an exam situation. The two sample groups will attend the exam under different circumstances. Sample one will be informed that there will be a reward of a laptop for the best performance. Sample two, on the other hand, will only be told to take the exam since it is mandatory as a school practice. In this case, the good performance of the student will be induced through awarding of gifts.


There will be two groups of students with each having five students drawn from the same class. The same test will be used for the two groups of students. Group one will be called aside and informed that they are going to be given a test, and the best student will get a laptop. The second group will be called aside and informed that they are going to be given an exam, and it would be important for them to work hard so as to succeed. In this case, the exam will be the independent variable whereas the two different groups of students will be the dependable variable.

The story behind the experiment will be based on the fact that many students do not perform well and, therefore, should not be allowed to move to a subsequent class. Furthermore, many students are naturally gifted and are good performers but have not been doing well. More so, I will inform them of the fact that students fear exams, and it is important to note that exams are easy and people only fail because they do not concentrate. In the exam, therefore, I will want them to employ the fact that maximum concentration in an exam will always lead to excellent results. The dependent variable will be the exam results of the two groups: group one, who was promised gifts on success; and group two, who were simply marshaled to the exam room. Results will be measured in terms of the performance. Performance here will be a comparison between the group that is highly motivated by rewards and the one that was not. The exam given will be a short and standard paper based on facts that they have learnt in class. The two groups will be given time to revise and then put in their rooms to tackle the exam.


From my experiment, I expect to find an excellent performance in the group that I had promised a great reward on their success. This reward is going to motivate even those students who have not been doing well to have a commendable result. This is based on the fact that they are going to fully concentrate on the exam and their revision will be thorough due to the reward they have been promised. In the second group, the performance will be dismal. This is based on the fact that they are simply going to see it as a simple school routine. In group one, the weak students will, therefore, from the good performance based on reward, get a chance to change their ideas about exams. They will also discover that they have a potential to succeed if they focus and revise thoroughly. Some of them will even defeat their counterparts in the other group who have always been ahead of them; this will change their mentality about their capability in exams.


  • From the fact that the students have been awarded this reward, it will have to be availed so that next time the situation does not backfire.
  • The students might not get enough time for revision.
  • Some students will be so anxious and, therefore, tense; in this case, not give the correct results based on their abilities.
  • The student’s performance from now on will be dependent on the rewards and motivation, without which the results will be compromised.


  • There will be a problem of the issue of the ability of the students, as this always affects their performance in exams
  • There will be a problem in choice of subject to test on since every student has his/her best , in which he/she is very good at.
  • There will be a problem with the time; this is based on the fact that with different abilities, some students may be too slow.
  • On noticing the difference in performance, students in group are bound to feel shortchanged, and that is what will lead to their failure. They will believe that students in the first group were favored, and this is why they performed better than them.

Participant Population

The total participants are ten students. This implies five for each category. Such a number is chosen so as to make the experiment easier and faster. Furthermore, with such a small group it is easy to monitor and administer the test. This will further imply that testing,  marking and releasing results will take very little time. It’s also important since little manpower will be required to carry out the experiment as two people, one per group, can be able to handle the groups.

Experimental Realism

The experiment is realistic in the sense that this is something practical. It is based on a problem that is facing many of the schools today and to which psychologists are being called to offer a solution. The concept of induced pragmatics as based on cognitive dissonance is something that works (Aronson, 1980). This is in the sense that we can be able to change the student’s mindset towards exams and success through inducement. The inducement here is based on a positive element that they would want to associate with. This is, for instance, gifts and reward which motivate them more and incline them towards success.

Little deception was used here, and it was appropriate for the experiment. This is in the sense that there was actually no laptop to give to the student who performed the best. This is logical because it would have been quite an expensive venture based on the fact that this is a mere experiment aimed at fact finding.

The participants were subjected to very little risk. The only risk involved in the experiment is the trauma associated with the poor performance and/or appearing last in the test. This is, however, abated in the sense that after the exam, the students are reassured by being informed that after all this it was just an exercise aimed at jogging their minds and will not count in their final grade.

The cover story here will be based on the issue of student performance in exams. This will be drawn from the fact that there are many students who are going through the system and are handled the same exams but still fail; yet they have the potential of performing very well. In this case, whatever is being done, especially to the first group who will all perform well, is to expose the great potential in them and to show them that they are actually sleeping giants. Sleeping giants are those very strong animals that have the potential of doing wonders and even scaring people, but they are dead asleep and thus not doing what we associate them with. This will inspire students to work very hard on their exams in pursuit of excellence. This will be based on the fact that they will discover the potential in them.

Further Research

From these findings, further research can be done on the same. It is evident from the findings of this experiment that student’s mentality in exams can be changed. This is now where the issue of cognitive dissonance comes in, especially based on the induced compliance paradigm. This implies that teachers are in a position of inducing good performance in exams of their students. This will further bring out the fact that students have much potential and, therefore, they can change their stance and mindsets, especially those which affect them negatively making them to perform dismally. This is the main issue of cognitive dissonance, which as a field of social psychology, that is important to implement in schools so as to boost student's performance.

This concept can be experimented in schools. Schools should be in a position to experiment with their students’ population. In one sample of students, they should promise to reward them favorably and fully once they succeed. In the other group, they should just compel them to do what is required without any motivation or promise of a reward. The two groups should be monitored over time and their performance noted. Furthermore, individual performance should be checked, especially for sample one where there is a promise of rewards. This is with regards to those students who are considered perennial poor performers. It will, therefore, be noted that those students put on the spotlight will gradually change their mindsets and improve on their performance. The other group, on the other hand, will continue registering dwindling and dismal performance.  From this then it will be noted that rewards and motivation can change students’ mindset and/or performance in exams.

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