Effort justification

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Yesterday I finished grading a bunch of student papers, an activity that led me to think of the concepts of effort justification and the effort heuristic. This is part of my ongoing effort to understand the psychology behind the persistence of Mesomania.

I posted a comment on cognitive dissonance on the mesomania blog, here. Effort justification is an aspect of cognitive dissonance in the sense that when people spend a lot of time and effort on a project, they tend to justify the effort by believing this proposition:

“the subjective value of an outcome is directly related to the effort that went into obtaining it.”

In other words, people who invest in an activity think it is more valuable than those who haven’t invested the same amount of time and effort.

IMO, this explains a lot of the Mesomania we continue to see.

Imagine that you’ve grown up with the belief that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. Maybe you’ve gotten a PhD in Mesoamerican archaeology. Or maybe you’ve written long, detailed books and/or journal articles on the topic. Or edited a journal that published such material. Or you’ve spent decades researching and writing on the topic, speaking at conferences, maintaining a blog, teaching students, etc. Or maybe you’ve raised a lot of money to promote the Mesoamerican setting.

Then you are confronted with evidence that completely contradicts your efforts. You develop serious cognitive dissonance.

What do you do?

According to effort justification theory, you will continue to believe your efforts turned out well, that you are still correct, that the evidence is unreliable and not credible, etc.

Effort justification explains why LDS scholars and educators continue to reject the prophets and apostles on the topic of the New York Cumorah.

Here’s one explanation, from this site:

“It also seems to be the case that we value most highly those goals or items which have required considerable effort to achieve.
“This is probably because dissonance would be caused if we spent a great effort to achieve something and then evaluated it negatively. We could, of course, spend years of effort into achieving something which turns out to be a load of rubbish and then, in order to avoid the dissonance that produces, try to convince ourselves that we didn’t really spend years of effort, or that the effort was really quite enjoyable, or that it wasn’t really a lot of effort.
“In fact, though, it seems we find it easier to persuade ourselves that what we have achieved is worthwhile and that’s what most of us do, evaluating highly something whose achievement has cost us dear – whether other people think it’s much cop or not! This method of reducing dissonance is known as ‘effort justification’.
“If we put effort into a task which we have chosen to carry out, and the task turns out badly, we experience dissonance. To reduce this dissonance, we are motivated to try to think that the task turned out well.”

Here’s another example, from an article on the effort heuristic:

“Consider the following: After receiving a low grade on a paper, a student approaches you after class and complains about his or her grade. Occasionally, such protests stem from errors in grading or strategic attempts by the student to ‘‘work’’ the system. But more often, the grade is correct, and the protest sincere. In such cases, it is not uncommon to hear some version of the following: ‘‘But I don t understand. I worked so hard…how could I get a D?’’ Apparently, the student believes that because he or she invested great effort, the outcome of that effort must be great as well. Indeed, we recently asked a group of Cornell University students to indicate (confidentially) how much effort they put into a term paper and the grade they expected to receive, and compared those estimates with the actual grades received. Although predicted and actual grades were positively correlated, that relationship was dwarfed by the relationship between the grade the students expected to receive and the effort they reported investing in the paper.”
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As we deal with the effects of Mesomania, I hope we all keep effort justification in mind because it helps us better understand the LDS scholars and educators who continue to promote the Mesoamerican theory.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

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