It did not mean anything (about me)
Cognitive dissonance theory and the cognitive and affective consequences of romantic infidelity
Most people see themselves as being very loyal and faithful and consider romantic infidelity to be a morally unacceptable behaviour. So how do cheaters live with themselves after their infidelity? Understanding how they reconcile their indiscretions with their beliefs about themselves can help us figure out why “good people” cheat.
The purpose of this study was to conduct an initial test of the hypothesis that perpetrators of infidelity are susceptible to cognitive dissonance. It employed a novel experimental manipulation that was designed to make participants think that they had acted either faithfully or unfaithfully during a prior relationship. The results showed that participants who were made to feel unfaithful had more negative emotions than those in the “faithful” condition. Those made to feel unfaithful were also more likely to report that they did not like themselves. In short, they experienced discomfort about their infidelity. They also tended to downplay their infidelity, reporting that it was not important and did not represent them. Dissonance theory predicts that when individuals’ thoughts and behaviours are inconsistent, something has to give. The results of this study presents evidence that perceptions of infidelity cause cognitive dissonance.
Perpetrating romantic infidelity is discrepant with how most individuals see themselves and theoretically should produce cognitive dissonance. Accordingly, perpetrators of infidelity should experience symptoms of dissonance (e.g. self-concept discrepancy, psychological discomfort, poor affect) and employ tactics that reduce these symptoms (e.g. trivialization). These hypotheses were tested in four experiments. In each experiment, participants were given bogus feedback indicating that they had acted either faithfully or unfaithfully during a prior romantic relationship (this manipulation was evaluated in experiment 1). Participants who received unfaithful feedback reported higher levels of self-concept discrepancy, psychological discomfort, and poor affect (experiments 2 and 4) and trivialized to a greater extent the importance of their ostensive infidelities (experiments 3 and 4). Experiment 4 further showed that trivialization significantly reduced self-concept discrepancy and psychological discomfort but not poor affect. These results are generally consistent with the view that infidelity is a dissonance arousing behavior and that perpetrators of infidelity respond in ways that reduce cognitive dissonance.
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Joshua D. Foster and Tiffany A. Misra
It did not mean anything (about me): Cognitive dissonance theory and the cognitive and affective consequences of romantic infidelity
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships November 2013 30: 835-857, first published on January 23, 2013 doi:10.1177/0265407512472324