Psychological therapy

Firstly, for therapies, self-perception theory holds a different view of psychological problems from the traditional perspectives which suggest that those problems come from the inner part of the clients. Instead, self-perception theory perspective suggests that people attribute their inner feelings or abilities from their external behaviors. If those behaviors are maladjusted ones, people will attribute those maladjustments to their poor adapting abilities and thus suffer from the corresponding psychological problems. Thus, we can make use of this concept to treat clients with psychological problems that are resulted from maladjustments by guiding or giving suggestions to them to firstly change their behaviors and later the 'problems'.

One of the most famous therapies making use of this concept is therapy for 'Heterosocial Anxiety'. In this case, the assumption is that an individual perceives that he or she has poor social skills because he/she has no dates. Experiments showed that males with heterosocial anxiety perceived less anxiety with females after several sessions of therapy in which they engaged in a 12-minute, purposefully biased dyadic social interactions with a separate female. From these apparently successful interactions, the males inferred that their heterosocial anxiety was reduced. This effect is shown to be quite long-lasting as the reduction in perceived heterosocial anxiety resulted in a significantly greater number of dates among subjects 6 months later.

Foot-in-the-door Technique

Secondly, self-perception theory is an underlying mechanism for the effectiveness of many marketing or persuasive techniques. One typical example is the foot-in-the-door technique, which is a widely-used marketing technique for persuading target customers to buy products. The basic premise of this technique is that, once a person complies with a small request (e.g., filling in a short questionnaire), he/she will be more likely to comply with a more substantial request which is related to the original request (e.g., buying the related product). The idea is that the initial commitment on the small request will change one's self image, therefore giving reasons for agreeing with the subsequent, larger request. It is because people observe their own behaviors (paying attention to and complying with the initial request) and the context in which they behave (no obvious incentive to do so) and thus infer they must have a preference for those products.

Challenges and Criticisms

The self-perception theory was initially proposed as an alternative to explain the experimental findings of the cognitive dissonance theory and there were debates as to whether people experience attitude changes as an effort to reduce dissonance or as a result of self-perception processes. Basing on the fact that the self-perception theory differs from the cognitive dissonance theory in that it does not hold that people experience a "negative drive state" called "dissonance" which they seek to relieve, the following experiment was carried out to compare the two theories under different conditions.

An early study on cognitive dissonance theory shows that people indeed experience arousal when their behavior is inconsistent with their previous attitude. Waterman designed an experiment in which participants were asked to write an essay arguing against the position they agreed. Then they were asked immediately to perform a simple task and a difficult task and their performance in both tasks were assessed. It was found that they performed better in the simple task and worse in the difficult task, compared to those who had just written an essay corresponding to their true attitude. As indicated by social facilitation, enhanced performance in simple tasks and worsened performance in difficult tasks shows that arousal is produced by people when their behavior is inconsistent with their attitude. Therefore, the cognitive dissonance theory is evident in this case.

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