January 14, 2010

Effort Justification

Social psychologists have studied a theory called “cognitive dissonance” for decades. One of the more interesting facets of this theory is a phenomenon they have come to call “effort justification.” In brief, the theory states that people tend to like things more as the cost to them increases (see study). For example, the theory essentially states that if you were to fill up a theater with 100 people who came to see a sneak peek of some movie, and were to randomly charge some $50 and allow some in for free, that the people who paid the most would enjoy it significantly more than the people who got in for free. Or if you charged them all the same amount, the people who drove the farthest to get to the theater would like the movie more than those who came from a few minutes away.

The explanation is that we keep the effort and cost in our minds and build up what we experience in order for our efforts to be worth the cost. We say subconsciously, “Well of course I love what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have paid all that money and made all that effort if I wasn’t going to love the consequences!”

While the theory applies to dozens of areas of everyday life, I have noticed it also applies to the LDS church as well. If one considers all the effort being a member of the Church requires, one can see why, according to effort justification, the believers are so terrified to think they might be wrong about the Church.

  • Think of the countless hours given to the Church, in callings, preparation for callings, talks, attendance of several meetings per week, beginning seminary at 5:45am (as I did for 3.5 years), cleaning the building, sometimes driving for hours to attend the temples, etc.
  • Consider the thousands of dollars in tithing money the Church requires to be “donated” from average members.
  • Remember the two years of 60+ hours weekly spent being rejected in the name of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, Jr. while being denied phone calls to family, relationships with the opposite sex, television, casual dress, a decent haircut, etc., and also paying for the experience out of own and family’s own pockets.

After all of this, it is only natural that members of the Church would insist that they do not want to know if it is a lie. One of the greatest ways to create a testimony of the Church is to instill the deepest fear of learning that it is a fraud. After all of the cost to be a believer, members insist to themselves (and others) that they do it all because they know they are right. In reality, these are all just another reason to want so badly to believe. The alternative is that all of that time, money, and heartache were for much less than eternal salvation. And they say to themselves, "I wouldn't pay it if I wasn't absolutely sure."

And so, it appears that the crippling fear of having wasted time, money, and effort is often the foundation for loving a bad movie, or having an unquestioning testimony in the LDS faith.

No comments: