Essay on Belief Perseverance

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In America, one out of every six women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime (Tjaden, 2000). Young women are especially at risk and 499 known gymnasts’ athletes can account for this. Recently, Michigan doctor Larry Nassar was charged with multiple accounts of sexual assaults against female gymnasts. (Howley, 2018). Larry Nassar was a sports doctor who specialized in female gymnastics, working with many gymnasts ranging from amateur to Olympic-level athletes. His actions toward female athletes carried on for decades without any consequences towards himself or his medical license. The collaboration of numerous gymnast athletes going through media outlets to get attention to their stories was when they finally could find justice. The very vibrant question is how this was achievable for Dr. Nassar. This ongoing behavior can be attributed to conformity through authority, roles, belief perseverance, and cognitive dissonance theory.

In social psychology, there are peripheral weapons on how we feel, think, or act in situations and one of those weapons includes authority. Authority gives someone the right to do something or enforce obedience (Chapter 6). Authority figures are assumed to be the one who knows best, therefore they are often viewed this way due to cues. In particular, Larry Nassar was an authority figure to the gymnasts based on his age, his doctorate credentials, and being the one who took care of their injuries. Hundreds of females had to go to this man for their basic medical needs. Therefore it was very attainable to assault these women in small ways because of his authority figure. He would touch them in very inappropriate ways and his reasoning would be relied back to medical reasons.

This can then be transitioned into the abused power of roles. Roles are sets of norms to define how someone in a particular social situation or position should act. In this case, the doctor vs patient roles. As a patient, it is assumed that the doctor’s behavior revolves around helping you (the patient) with medical problems or any assistance needed. Being the role of the patient, you are often relying on trust when working with a doctor. That is indeed what hundreds of female athletes did when they went to Larry Nassar for assistance. When he started to abuse his role and assault these women, he did it in ways that made them not even realize what was happening to them. Some women would object to his actions but he would enforce the idea that he was doing what was necessary for their medical needs. This would then put these women back into roles of just being patients who are supposed to do what the doctor tells them to do.

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Many of these females were very uncomfortable with what was going on in their sessions with Dr. Nassar, but rarely would they speak out. Cognitive dissonance theory assumes that to reduce discomfort, we have to justify our actions or also state that behaviors and attitudes/beliefs conflict with one another (Chapter 4). These women are experiencing a very uncomfortable situation that they have negative attitudes towards yet their behavior shows as if they are fine with what is happening. They are not truly accepting of the actions Dr. Nassar is utilizing on them, but rather they know that if they spoke out nothing would change. These girls developed feelings of degradation and manipulation, and sometimes it was better to bury those feelings rather than confront the situation. The feeling these women had to endure is indescribable and awkward, which explains why deep down they found a way to justify Larry Nassar's actions on them.

Perseverance of an initial conception, such as when the basis for one’s belief is discredited but an explanation of why the belief might be true survives is the concept of belief perseverance (chapter 3). This is easily attributed to how Nassar was able to get away with his actions. Nassar would invite some athletes that complained of back pains over to his house and perform certain stretches and within the exercises, he would penetrate the vagina with his fingers or around the pelvic area. Some girls would be uncomfortable and file complaints to police enforcement or other members apart of the gymnastics organization about his undesired touching. Nassar was immediately ready to counterargue their claims with the idea of Pelvic Floor Therapy. This is the concept that pelvic exercises can reduce pain or discomfort in the back or hips (Howley, 2018). As soon as one of the gymnasts would discredit his actions on certain exercises, he would use the explanation of the pelvic therapy to gain access to secretly molest these women.

In conclusion, Larry Nassar was able to get away with an abundant amount of sexual assault cases through social psychological principles. The power of authority and roles, the effect of belief perseverance, and cognitive dissonance theory were all huge factors in how Nassar was able to use power and the principles behind these theories to manipulate these athletes and even the justice system. Even in the end, it took 499 female gymnasts to break their silence on how they had been sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar. The larger numbers and use of social media are what led to Larry Nassar being sentenced to life in prison for the endless amount of pain he put these girls through. It is truly remarkable that through the principles that were previously listed, he was able to go decades of hiding his true self, a sexual predator.


    1. Howley, K. (2018, November). Everyone Believed Larry Nassar The predatory trainer may have just taken down USA Gymnastics. How did he deceive so many for so long? Retrieved from The Cut.
    2. Tjaden, P. (2000, november ). Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey.
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Essay on Belief Perseverance. (2024, February 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
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