Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




The purpose of this thesis is to test the theory of cognitive dissonance as it relates to a reader's selectivity in reading controversial material involving his personal prejudices or attitudes. Festinger states that forced or accidental exposure to new information which tends to increase dissonance will frequently result in misinterpretation and misperception of the new information by the individual thus exposed in an effort to avoid a dissonance increase. Therefore, cognitive dissonance theory would predict that a person's prejudiced attitude would negatively effect his reading comprehension on material which was disharmonious with his attitude. The dissonance situation examined here is forced or accidental exposure to new information which creates cognitive elements that are dissonant with existing cognitions. When one is involuntarily exposed to information that will increase dissonance, in addition to the usual procedures whereby an individual may reduce dissonance, Festinger states that other quick defensive processes which prevent the new cognition from ever becoming firmly established are set up. Misinterpretation, misperception and inattention to dissonant material while reading are three such defensives which could occur during the reading of dissonant material; and 'selective forgetting' should be evidenced on a comprehension test of that material. The process of selective forgetting of cognitive elements as an effective means of dissonance reduction was stated by Festinger to have been insufficiently explored. With a recent review of the research in this area the prior statement remains true, thus giving additional purpose to this thesis.