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Forbidden Toy September 26, 2008

Posted by sliceof in Political Psychology.
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I am studying political psychology right now and I have been forced to review alot of Psychological concepts I have never encountered.

I found this famous study that was used to understand how people resolve of Cognitive Dissonance (the dissatisfaction felt when someone has two beliefs that contradict each other.)
Example:  A person that knows that smoking is unhealthy and yet has the desire to smoke has Cognitive Dissonance and may resolve this through Justification (I deserve a cigarette, I am young, one won’t kill me).

I pulled the explanation from Wikipedia because it is concise and easy to understand:

Forbidden toy study

In a later experiment Aronson and Carlsmith (1963) viewed cognitive justification to forced compliance in children.

The experimenter would question the child on a set of toys to gauge which toys the children liked the most and which they found the least tempting. The experimenter then chose a toy that the child really liked, put them in a room with it, and left the room. Upon leaving the room the experimenter told half the children that there would be a severe punishment if they played with the toy and told the other half that there would be a moderate punishment.

Later, when the punishment, whether severe or moderate, was removed, the children in the moderate punishment condition were less likely to play with the toy, even though now it had no repercussion.

When questioned, the children in the moderate condition expressed less interest in the toy than would be expected towards a toy that they had initially ranked high in interest. Alternatively, the desirability of the toy went up for the children in the severe punishment condition.

This study laid out the effect of over-justification and insufficient justification on cognition.

In over-justification, the personal beliefs and attitudes of the person do not change because they have a good external reason for their actions. The children threatened with the severe punishment had a good external reasoning for not playing with the toy because they knew that they would be badly punished for it. However, they still wanted the toy, so once the punishment was removed they were more likely to play with it. Conversely, the children who would get the moderate punishment displayed insufficient justification because they had to justify to themselves why they did not want to play with the toy since the external motivator, the degree of punishment, was not strong enough by itself. As a result, they convinced themselves that the toy was not worth playing with, which is why even when the punishment was removed they still did not play with the toy.


In effect, moderate punishments allow individuals to develop “over-justifications.”  These over-justifications reinforce the desired behavior when the threat of punishment is not imminent.

Just something to think about.