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Good Cop, Bad Cop: Using Cognitive Dissonance Theory to Reduce Police Lying

University of California-Davis Law Review, Vol. 32, 1999

University of Memphis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 30

66 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2010 Last revised: 15 Oct 2012

Andrew Jay McClurg

University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

Date Written: June 25, 2010

Abstract

This article argues that lessons from the social psychology field of cognitive dissonance theory can be applied to create a successful police integrity training and mentoring program, one that matches rookie officers with cadets still in training at the police academy as a way to perpetuate honesty as an intrinsic police value and prevent good cops from turning bad.

Cognitive dissonance is the tension that arises when one holds two conflicting beliefs or believes one way and then acts another. Dissonance is strongest when it involves a cognition about the self and behavior that violates that self-concept. Self-concept theory rests on the assumption that humans strive to maintain consistency between their own high concept of themselves, including their moral self-concept, and their behavior.

If a person considers herself to be a moral person and commits an immoral act, she will experience dissonance. Reducing this dissonance will require her to rethink or justify her actions to make them more consistent with her self-concept by changing attitudes or behavior. Because it directly challenges a person’s image of herself, dissonance-based persuasion is a powerful behavior-altering force. Dissonance persuasion has been used successfully to change attitudes and behavior about energy conservation, condom use for AIDS prevention, weight reduction, and adolescent smoking.

McClurg articulates a framework for police integrity programs based on the sponsorship model used effectively in 12-step recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous — which unwittingly capitalize on the power of cognitive dissonance theory — that would provide an effective foundation for keeping police officers, most of whom begin their careers as honest and idealistic, from straying from their moral compasses.

Suggested Citation

McClurg, Andrew Jay, Good Cop, Bad Cop: Using Cognitive Dissonance Theory to Reduce Police Lying (June 25, 2010). University of California-Davis Law Review, Vol. 32, 1999; University of Memphis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 30. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1630533

Andrew Jay McClurg (Contact Author)

University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law ( email )

1 Front Street
Memphis, TN 38103
United States

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