This need for stimulation may perhaps be explained in evolutionary terms. As long as your environment continues as it is, you are in no danger. It is only novel stimuli that are potentially dangerous. Exploration and manipulation of your environment makes the unfamiliar familiar. If the novel stimulus is indeed dangerous, you can remove it or remove yourself; if it is not dangerous, the threat is removed. Besides removing danger or threat of danger, exploration and manipulation incidentally enable you to get to know your environment. One peculiar property of novel stimuli may help explain why we know more than we really need to know. Over time, a novel stimulus becomes less and less novel; that is, it ceases to be a satisfier of the need for stimulation. We must therefore continually search for new stimuli to satisfy this need. Perhaps, as our environment becomes less and less threatening, this incidental function of getting to know our environment becomes more and more important.

      A group of psychologists arranged to have some observers infiltrate an organization whose members believed that the world would end at a particular time on a particular date. They were curious to find out what would happen when that time passed and the world remained. The psychologists found that those people who were only peripherally involved with the group ceased to believe, whereas those people who were strongly committed to the group (that is, those who had stated their beliefs in interviews with the press, sold their belongings, canceled their life-insurance policies, and so on) continued to believe. These true believers argued that the destruction of the world had been postponed because of rain, that the apocalypse had been canceled because of their vigilance, that there had been a mistake in the date, and so on and so on.

      These findings suggested to Leon Festinger, the leader of the group of psychologists, the concept of cognitive dissonance. When two items of information do not fit together, there is a tendency for one of them to be changed. For instance, the two items of information 'I smoke' and 'smoking causes cancer' are dissonant. Festinger found that fewer smokers than non-smokers believed the latter statement. People who have those two items of information within their subjective maps tend to stop smoking or stop believing. Research on cognitive dissonance has led to a number of further findings which Grandmother would not have predicted. Not only do we own a car because we read ads for it but we read ads for it because we own it; not only do we say what we believe but we come to believe what we say; not only do we own things we like but we come to like things we own; not only do we know what we like but we come to like what we know. All those findings point to a need for consistency.

      Whereas the need for stimulation provides the organic basis for knowing our environment, the need for consistency provides the organic basis for understanding our environment. Not only do we need to know, but we need to know what we need to know. What we know must be organized into a consistent body of knowledge; that is, we need not only to know but to understand. The need for stimulation and the need for consistency together provide an organic basis for psychological growth. Jean Piaget describes the process of psychological growth as a series of alternating assimilations and accommodations. You assimilate information from your environment and adjust your subjective map of the environment to accommodate that information if it does not fit. The need for stimulation is the organic basis of assimilation and the need for consistency is the organic basis of accommodation. The need for stimulation ensures a fresh supply of new information and the need of consistency ensures that this information will be integrated within a consistent subjective map.

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