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I remember reading a case study on this years ago and I am trying to track it down.

The study involved asking people who held strong opinions on varied subjects to defend the opposite opinion in a hypothetical debate. At the end of the debate the people had come to adopt the viewpoint they were defending, regardless of the hypothetical nature of the actual debate.

Does anyone know the name of this phenomenon, or better yet, have a link explaining it?

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You might want to look at cognitive dissonance theory. If I get a chance, I'll fill this out with a more detailed answer –  Jeromy Anglim Nov 9 '12 at 4:46
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1 Answer

Fazio et al (1977) provide a review of some of the literature on attitude change that can be induced by getting participants to take on another perspecive. To quote the opening paragraph.

If an individual freely chooses to perform a behavior which is discrepant from his attitude, he tends later to realign his attitude toward that behavior. For example, a subject who complies with an experimenter’s request to write an attitude-discrepant essay against the legalization of marijuana is typically found to favor such legalization to a lesser degree than previously. This now classic attitude change effect is readily explained by both Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance (1957) and Bem’s self-perception theory (1972). Dissonance theory, in general, concerns the relationship between various cognitions. The theory posits the existence of a drive-like motivation to maintain consistency among relevant cognitions. Self-perception theory, on the other hand, concerns the passive inference of attitudinal dispositions from behavior. According to Bem (1972), “Individuals come to ‘know’ their own attitudes, emotions, and other internal states partially by inferring them from observations of their own overt behavior and/or the circumstances in which this behavior occurs” (p. 2). Social psychologists vary in which theory they endorse.

References

  • Fazio, R. H., Zanna, M. P., & Cooper, J. (1977). Dissonance and self-perception: An integrative view of each theory's proper domain of application. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13(5), 464-479. PDF
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