Continuing the discussion on cognitive dissonance theory, this post will focus on the induced compliance paradigm.

The experiment that showed this in action goes like this: a group of kids are given a room full of toys. They are expressly forbidden to play with one toy in the room, though. One group is threatening with a mild punishment, while another group is threatened with a harsh punishment. Sometime later, the kids are told they can now play with the forbidden toy. The kids in the mild punishment group were less likely to play with the toy than the group with the harsh punishment. This demonstrated that the only reason the kids in the harsh punishment group had to not play with the toy was that they did not want to be punished. The mild punishment group created other internal reasons for not playing with the toy as they could not simply justify that the punishment was enough. They may have convinced themselves that the toy was not that fun anyway.

The cognitive dissonance is the act of creating a reason for not doing something because the other reasons that are presented do not seem reasonable enough.

This does speak some to motivational theory in that by having large punishments or by having large rewards a goal can be achieved. The behavior is changed, but it is only changed to meet the basic extent of the goal. For instance, a company has a large monetary goal for not having recordable injuries. The team meets that goal not by being safer but by not reporting injuries. Anyway . . . that’s a topic for another time.

I find that induced compliance actually applies more to the safety professional than it does for others. First, the goal is not manipulate people to think about safety. The goal is to create healthy behaviors. As a safety professional, there are conflicting ideas such as: letter of the law, spirit of the law, and risk reduction. A good example would be the confined space regulations that state that once any part of the body that crosses the plain the space has been entered. The spirit of the law is that the space hazards are mitigated, and the person can be rescued. The letter of law sets the standard very clear terms. Without a clear delineation, there could be opportunities to put people at risk. The risk of entering the space versus breaking the plain varies with the space itself. The letter of law is clear so as to create the safest potential environment.

I find that I have to create reasons why to absolutely comply with the letter of law (which is the intent). Many OSHA regulations make sense and can be liberally applied to keeping people safe. In this case of confined spaces, there are so many variations and application that sometimes the best reason is only that the law requires it. Instinctively, when explaining the situation, I want to find practical applications in which to show that the law has assisted in protecting people or reducing risk. I create in myself induced compliance to justify the idea of following the letter of the law.

Now, it is implicit that the letter of the law be followed. That is the intention of any safety professional. This was an example only. I used the example as a time where intuition, risk reduction, the spirit of the law, and the letter of the law may not always be in sync. In these situations in can be normal for someone in safety to create additional reasons to justify the process. Sometimes, the hardest job the safety professional has is to convince others that his services are needed. We take bureaucratic processes and help people realize how those processed keep them safe. Even the safety professional has to sometimes stretch to meet that internal need to explain and justify the existence of the law and the protections that come with it.