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Dissonance and Memory: Are Chosen Behaviors Remembered as Less Free if the Outcome is Negative?
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Cognitive dissonance theory posits that people will change their attitudes, beliefs, and evaluations to maintain consistency between their behaviors and self-concept. One underexplored method of reducing cognitive dissonance created through self-concept violations is the distortion of memory. Many aspects of memory accuracy are important, but memory for coercive behavior stands out as having considerable legal importance. Two studies test the hypothesis that, when people choose a social interaction partner who turns out to behave badly, they will experience dissonance resulting from the inconsistency between their belief in their ability to accurately judge others and their apparently failure in choosing a partner who behaves badly. Consequently, dissonance might be reduced by recalling having had less freedom in choosing a bad than a good partner. In both studies, participants played a version of the ultimatum game with the task of splitting up 10 raffle tickets that entered them into a drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card. Participants were either assigned to or induced to choose a partner that they believed was another person, but who was actually a Qualtrics program. That “partner” played the decider role, and either offered the participant a fair (positive consequence) or strongly unfair split (negative consequence) of the hypothetical raffle tickets. Results did not support predictions, in that the valence of the outcome did not affect memory for degree of choice of a partner in either study. However, in Study 2 the exploratory dependent measures indicated that participants might have shifted blame for the poor outcome of their choice to their imaginary partner rather than the experimenter as initially hypothesized. Reasons for the lack of hypothesized results and possible resolutions to these problems are discussed.