29.Dec.2010 Beaver Athletics & Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance as defined by psychology.org:
According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. In the case of a discrepancy between attitudes and behavior, it is most likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior.
Two factors affect the strength of the dissonance: the number of dissonant beliefs, and the importance attached to each belief. There are three ways to eliminate dissonance: (1) reduce the importance of the dissonant beliefs, (2) add more consonant beliefs that outweigh the dissonant beliefs, or (3) change the dissonant beliefs so that they are no longer inconsistent.
Dissonance occurs most often in situations where an individual must choose between two incompatible beliefs or actions. The greatest dissonance is created when the two alternatives are equally attractive. Furthermore, attitude change is more likely in the direction of less incentive since this results in lower dissonance. In this respect, dissonance theory is contradictory to most behavioral theories which would predict greater attitude change with increased incentive (i.e., reinforcement).
It's my opinion Oregon State suffers from this phenomena more than any major university. It starts with the administration, trickles to the athletic department, and finally ends with the fans.
Everybody knows Aesop's fable called the Fox and the Grapes. In the tale, a fox cannot reach the high hanging grapes, and so he tells himself, "I did not want those grapes anyway as they are probably not ripe." By doing so, the fox reduces the cognitive dissonance in his mind, making him better able to cope with his own short comings.
You might say, "okay Angry, but we are not foxes and we do not care to eat grapes." Fine, how about eating unhealthy food, or drinking alcohol. These things kill human, yet most humans want to live a long and healthy life. These contradicting thoughts create tension, and people resolve and justify this tension (i.e. their destructive actions) by claiming one or many of the following:
- citing sources that say unhealthy foods may actually be healthy
- rationalizing that drinking in moderation is okay
- rationalizing that if food or drink doesn't kill them, something else will
- convincing themselves that since others engage in the behavior it can't be all that bad.
- stating that many people eat unhealthy food or drink heavily, but only a select few gain enough weight to die from it.
So how does this relate to Oregon State?
Well, the most obvious relationship is with Mike Riley's recruiting philosophy. As Steve Sanner astutely noted, Riley goes for the "low hanging fruit"…this is not at all different than Aesop's "The Fox and the Grape." Instead of building a proverbial ladder to reach the fruit he desires, Riley instead rationalizes his decision, saying things like "I want them to be 4 or 5 stars when they leave" and claiming to pay no attention to the recruiting services. The former is rationalization from making bad decisions, and the latter is a result of cognitive dissonance known as an ego defense mechanism. If Riley has an "A List" and fails to sign players from it, what he should do–to use the Aesop analogy once again–is build a ladder to reach the high, ripe fruit.
Does any of this sound familiar when you consider the average Beaver fan's perception of recruiting? Even to this day, most fans will welcome with open arms the unheralded 0-star recruit with no DI offers. They will firmly believe, like a dirt farmer with his lottery ticket, that player X is the next Mike Hass and Johnathan Smith, but there is never a peep about Joel Cohen, Ricky Herod, Rory Ross, and the much greater percentage of low-ranked recruits who never made it. Why do you think that it? The answer is because admitting or acknowledging failure lowers serotonin, creates a need for ego-defense mechanisms, and makes the individual accept their average existence.
With regard to the University as a whole, they are also guilty as charged. Selling the "Family Atmosphere" because they cannot sell things like tradition, prestige, academics, etc. The problem at such a large scale is that the University cannot speak the truth due to public perception. If OSU were to admit they are average across the board, enrollment would drop. Individual coaches and fans can admit flaws and relieve themselves of cognitive dissonance because the audience is specialized, smaller, and wants to hear the truth and how it will be improved upon.
People sometimes ask me why I put so much effort into running such a "negative" site. This is the reason why: cognitive dissonance. There is too much of it around this program. I want to admit what we are and why we are what we are, and until every last fan does so, I will continue to do it. This is somewhat of a plea, but I have pride and will not stoop to outright beg. But Beaver fan, by rationalizing the signing of Kellen Clute, Blake Harrah, et al., even if they turn out to be Shanon Sharpe and Dick Butkus, you have just done yourself and university an injustice because you have accepted the low hanging fruit. Demand the building of a ladder, find the materials to do so, pick the high fruit, and if it turns out to be sour there is no cognitive dissonance to rationalize as you can take solace in knowing you have tried your best. The bottom line is this: adjusting your attitude to accept the problem is not a solution. Changing your behavior, or demanding others change their behavior that is causing the problem is a solution. Demand more.