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The Insider -- A Critical Review

Updated on January 23, 2012

In the film titled, The Insider, Jeffrey Wigand is a former research scientist for a large tobacco company named Brown & Williamson. During his employment with Brown & Williamson, Wigand was involved in research that development of a process to increase nicotine absorption into the lung and therefore effect the brain and central nervous system. This process was then used in their tobacco products. Nonetheless, this was a very controversial for Wigand, who feels that he was somehow mislead regarding the purposes of his research. As a result of his opposition to the research and application, Wigand’s employment is terminated with Brown & Williamson. In an attempt to keep him disclosing insider information, Wigand is offered a severance agreement that includes cash payouts over-time, pending his compliance with a very rigid confidentially agreement. In essence, the agreement forbids him from disclosing the research he performed while employed at Brown & Williamson.

Wigand’s perceives himself as “a man of science” and as such, he feels obligated to disclose the facts and any vital information specifically around his research with nicotine and tobacco products while at Brown & Williamson. Wigand’s action to accept the confidentially agreement is inconsistent with his beliefs and as a result he develops a state of cognitive dissonance.

I am using the theory of cognitive dissonance to explain Jeffrey Wigand’s behavior. The theory of cognitive dissonance states that an individual cannot hold two psychologically inconsistent cognitions without experiencing a state of stress or tension. Considering that presence of cogitative dissonance is discomforting, we attempt to remove this discomfort by changing one or both of the cognitions.

The concept of cognition, or our ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and opinions, is a strong basis for understanding and explaining human behavior and motivation. Humans are structured in a way that our emotions influence thought, and thought in turn influences our behavior. This explains why we strive to ensure our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are consistent. Our motivation to think and behave in a particular fashion is largely the result of our self-image. In other words, one’s self-perception aids in the creation of personal constructs or schemas which frames one’s attitudes, and beliefs. In doing so, our personal constructs are usually shaped in a way which produces the least amount of discomfort. In Wigand’s case, his personal constructs and his self-image became dissonant with his behavior when he decides to accept the confidentiality agreement. Like most individuals, Wigand is motivated to justify his actions and behavior by focusing on the positive external justifications including: money, safety, reputation, and minimizing the negative aspects such as: withholding information that is beneficial to the physical health of individuals.

If a researcher were doing a study on the cogitative dissonance experienced by Jeffrey Wigand, they may find it beneficial to understand the rational and reasoning behind why he would choose to either comply with his confidentiality agreement or violate it by disclosing the insider information related to his research. In addition to asking questions around his rational, the researcher would also ask questions related to Wigand’s self-perception, his attitudes, and beliefs. Additional question around his motivation would also aid the researcher in understanding his actions. Developing an understanding of Wigand’s cognitions would aid the researcher in uncovering information that would help them to determine why and how the cogitative dissonance occurred.

Based on cognitive dissonance theory, the only solution is to reduce the dissonance by changing one or both of the inconsistent cognitions. The goal is to make them more compatible with each other. Specifically, in Wigand’s case, in order to reduce the frustration that he experienced as a result of the dissonance from holding two inconsistent cognitions, he must change his behavior and actions in order to make them more compatible with his attitudes and beliefs. To accomplish this change, Wigand must violate his confidentially agreement and disclose the information regarding his research. Another potential solution for Wigand is to change his beliefs and attitudes to make them more compatible with his behavior.

I believe cognitive dissonance theory is very well suited for addressing Jeffrey Wigand’s problem. The fundamental problem with Wigand in this film is that his cognition is in conflict with actions. Cognitive dissonance clearly explains why this caused him to become frustrated with his decision, and how the only way he could reduce this frustration was to change his actions. In the end, Wigand changed his behavior to match his beliefs - a solution that cognitive dissonance theory would have predicted.

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