Cognitive Dissonance | Wisconsin Longitudinal Study | Children’s Memory | Muggle’s Surveillance Society

It’s the 50th anniversary of cognitive dissonance. The well-known social psychologist Elliot Aronson explains the term in this NPR podcast:

“It’s a drive, like hunger or thirst and it feel uncomfortable whenever we hold two ideas or beliefs that conflict with each other [...] If I think I’m a smart, competent, moral person and I do something stupid, I try to convince myself it was the smartest thing I could have done.”

Aronson is promoting his new book with the fabulous title: “Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me.” There is also an excerpt from it describing classic research into cognitive dissonance.

Here’s another half century anniversary, this time it’s for a study. The Wisconsin Longitudinal study, now entering its 50th year, has followed the class of 1957 from their youthful career aspirations, through marrying and having children to how they are now dealing with ageing. The beauty of this mainly sociological study is that its focus has adapted as the participants have passed through each of life’s stages.

Recent work to come out of this study has included asking how occupational stratification is affected by education and family circumstances and how older adults prepare for the end of life.

Memories decay over time, right? If the event you are trying to remember is buried in the distant past, it should be more difficult to remember than something that happened recently. Maybe not according to new research published in the journal Child Development:

“Children who took part in the activity once were more inaccurate when the first interview took place 21 days after the activity than when it took place 3 days after the activity. But the long delay had no effect on the accuracy of reports by children who took part in the activity four times when they were asked about details that were the same in each activity.”

The research also found that children who had experienced different details in each activity were more accurate 21 days after the event than they were just 3 days later. Clear implications, then, for children giving evidence in criminal cases. Read more about the study at ScienceDaily.

In work on a similar topic also published in Child Development, researchers analysed forensic interviews with children who were alleged victims of sexual abuse. They found a dramatic upsurge in memories for dates and times after age 10. Children under 10 were unlikely to explicitly state when an event occurred.

This is important as it can be very easy in forensic interviews to suggest to a child when something has happened or provide options from which they choose. Whereas free recall provides better evidence. ScienceDaily has more.

And, as if you hadn’t already heard enough about Harry Potter and his magical boarding school, then here’s some more – but with a real-world twist. Judith Rauhofer of the University of Central Lancashire believes J K Rowling’s work is an indirect criticism of UK responses to terrorist threats.

It’s easy to be dismissive of this kind of work, but actually the thinking from a marketing perspective is sound. Attach your (perhaps politically unpopular) ideas to the bandwagon of a major publishing sensation and watch the media gobble up the story in their insatiable desire for anything and everything Potter-related. It has worked like magic – after all you’re reading it here and she’s getting plenty of Google action.

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 21 July 2007

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