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Trinity College Dublin

Cognitive Dissonance and fMRI

Research Field: 
Life Sciences
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Lead PI: 
Dr. Jan de Vries
The aim of this study is to investigate the neural response to cognitive dissonance (CD) using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The objective is to identify how common everyday events that could generate dissonance are processed in the brain. On the basis of present neurological evidence it is hypothesised that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and parts of the prefrontal cortex are implicated. Most of the research is based on relatively contrived lab tasks. This study attempts to establish whether the hypothesis still holds when CD induction takes place in a more naturalistic way presenting participants with day to day situations that generate dissonance. The study is part of a wider effort to bridge the gap between research on social cognition and neuroscience.Background Cognitive Dissonance (CD) (Festinger, 1957) is the result of simultaneously holding two or more inconsistent cognitions, or exhibiting behaviour that is inconsistent with beliefs or values. This is experienced as an uncomfortable tension motivating efforts to reduce dissonance and therefore discomfort. This is commonly done by changing cognitions or behaviours, but also by trivialising or seeking distraction. Evidence from neurological studies suggests that dissonance discomfort is detected in various brain structures, notably the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), while efforts to resolve it take place in the prefrontal cortex (Amodio et al, 2004; Harmon-Jones et al., 2008). Research Approach and Design Main Study: The study will make use of a within-subject 2 x 2 design baseline condition. Participants will all undergo the same procedure. They will be presented with a series of questions while undergoing an fMRI scan. In the experimental condition, the stimulus consists of (1) a primer which presents a common value; followed by (2) a memory prompt to think of personal violations of this value. Dissonance is expected to occur as a result. Three control conditions will provide necessary contrasts for fMRI analysis, while an added control condition serves as a baseline comparison. They use the same format with contrasting primers and memory prompts. Pilot Study: To select the items for inclusion in the fMRI study, a pilot study will take place in which the memory prompts will be tested. Those that are recalled most consistently will form the pool of items to be used in the experimental condition of the study. Data Collection Methods Main Study: The study will use fMRI scanning. Biographical data and intervention checks will make use of yes/no questions, 4-point Likert scales, and a dissonance questionnaire (Elliot and Devine, 1994). Responses to the stimuli during the scan will be given by pushing buttons on a panel in the scanner. Pilot Study: The pilot will make use of questionnaire which participants can complete on-line in Survey Monkey.
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Last updated 27 Jul 2011Contact Research IT.