Cognitive Dissonance: Theory, Examples & How to Reduce It

While these different views co-exist in the literature, there has not been a clear debate yet on the nature and the specificity of the CDS. Altogether, according to the diversity of specific emotion studied, focusing on one specific affect or on a cocktail of affects to capture the nature of CDS seems inappropriate. Cognitive dissonance theory attempts to explain not only feelings of discomfort that arise from a tension between one’s beliefs and actions but also analyze how people resolve this tension. The main elements of cognitive dissonance in psychology are behaviors and beliefs. The beliefs that can be in tension with one’s actions can have different emotional weights. Thus, an action that does not fit with a non-committal belief may arouse little to no cognitive dissonance.

  • The examination of the theory will require high powered studies with strictly relevant variables.
  • Notably, this proselytizing solution reflects not only effort justification but also the motivation to create a shared reality with others that their beliefs are true.

The assessment of additional parameters that could influence the CDS and its regulation (e.g., self-involvement) may also facilitate the investigations and ultimately permit to estimate the independent effects due to each of these variables. Finally, in addition to this standardization of the induction task, one has to rely on standard assessment of the CDS. Refining the terminology used in CDT could not only clarify the theory, but also impact the whole conception of the theory regarding ways to cope with “dissonance” (Vaidis and Bran, 2018). In Festinger’s view (1957), regulation strategies are supposed to reduce “dissonance,” but does that mean resolving the inconsistency or does that mean alleviating the arousal? This issue is never clarified in the original presentation of the theory, and differences in scholars’ implicit definitions could result in radically different views about the nature of dissonance regulation.

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Dissonance after a choice can be decreased by eliminating negative characteristics of the selected option, adding good aspects to the rejected alternative, or adding negative aspects to the chosen alternative or positive aspects to the rejected alternative. When the characteristics of the choice alternatives are changed to lessen dissonance, the selected option becomes more appealing, and the rejected alternative becomes less desired. This phenomenon is known as alternative spreading, and the experimental paradigm is known as the free-choice paradigm. Recently, several important theories which contributed to social psychological knowledge were partially discarded or relegated to a secondary role (Open Science Collaboration, 2015).

cognitive dissonance theory

Keech,” reported receiving messages from extraterrestrial aliens that the world would end in a great flood on a specific date. She attracted a group of followers who left jobs, schools, and spouses and who gave away money and possessions to prepare to depart on a flying saucer that, according to Mrs. Keech, would arrive to rescue the true believers. Given the believers’ serious commitment, Festinger wondered how they would react when the prophecy failed. He and his colleagues, posing as believers, infiltrated Mrs. Keech’s group and kept notes on the proceedings surreptitiously. Researchers predicted that the participants who were made to give personal reasons would be more likely to purchase condoms in comparison to the group that was asked for a generalized reason.

The Cognitive Dissonance Theory Development

The discomfort is triggered by the person’s belief clashing with new information perceived, wherein they try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort. Cognitive dissonance is the unpleasant emotion that results from holding two contradictory beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors at the same time. The study of cognitive dissonance is one of the most widely followed fields in social psychology. The failure to resolve cognitive dissonance can lead to irrational decision-making as a person contradicts their own self in their beliefs or actions.

cognitive dissonance theory

If a voluntary experience that has cost a lot of effort turns out badly, the dissonance is reduced by redefining the experience as interesting. Because these participants did not make a decision, they did not have any dissonance to reduce. Individuals in the low-dissonance group chose between a desirable product and one rated 3 points lower on an 8-point
scale. Female participants were informed they would be helping out in a study funded by several manufacturers.

Dissonance due to Inconsistency between Commitment and Information

Research has shown that when an individual engages in behaviors that are inconsistent with their attitude or belief (e.g., arguing a counter-attitudinal position on a topic), a change in attitude is produced that is consistent in the direction of his or her behavior. This mechanism of thought or attitude change is the same mechanism used to produce changes in negative, irrational thoughts that are involved in the maintenance of depression and related disorders. Next, the main physiological discomfort concept within the state of cognitive dissonance introduced by Festinger’s theory is dissonance arousal. According to Ploger et al. (2021), dissonance arousal or physiological tension presents the central point of cognitive dissonance experience.

  • In regard to current knowledge, we have to admit that despite CDS being the core of the model, we know very little about it.
  • Explicit self-reported scales have been useful at times (e.g., Elliot and Devine, 1994) but present limits.
  • When people were made to see their attitude-discrepant behavior face-to-face, they felt hypocritical about themselves and wanted to align their attitudes and behavior by choosing to reform their behaviors.
  • Last, suggestions about the induction procedure, such as the use of implicit inconsistency exposure (Levy et al., 2017), also permit merging several procedures which are widespread in close fields (e.g., Stroop task) but that were unusual for CDT.

The expectation of shared beliefs, values, and attitudes from family members can additionally influence romantic relationships. If these don’t align, we might consider justifying our relationship or breaking up. An extreme example of the negative consequences of cognitive dissonance is when we justify our partner’s harmful behavior toward us and get stuck in a toxic relationship. The theory is based on the idea that two cognitions can be relevant or irrelevant to each other (Festinger, 1957).

Perceptions and Beliefs Are Not Reality

In our view, avoiding a confusing conceptualization of CDT requires specifying that the regulation strategy aims at CDS and not necessarily directly at the inconsistency. To serve that purpose, the term regulation fits best with the idea of generally decreasing the motivational state, while the term reduction could be reserved for regulation specifically aimed at reducing the inconsistency. In our opinion, this terminology is more integrated with the general theory (see Vaidis and Bran, 2018), as well as more connected to current knowledge (see also Proulx et al., 2012; Jonas et al., 2014; Levy et al., 2017). According to the, the very best way to get people to change their attitudes is to first get them to change their behavior. This contradiction creates cognitive dissonance, an unpleasant state of physiological arousal, which we are highly motivated to avoid.

  • Think about a time when you experienced cognitive dissonance in your own life.
  • ] and if the decision was close then the effects of cognitive dissonance should be greater.
  • If the cognitions are relevant, they can be in agreement (consistent) or disagreement (inconsistent) with one another (Festinger, 1957).
  • A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance.
  • Many people seem able to cope with considerable dissonance and not experience the tensions the theory predicts.
  • By nature, we mean the parameters that allow a clear definition of this “state,” such as the experience of a specific emotion or the state’s intensity, valence or motivational capacity.

It is only leading the way for the next generation of researchers who will take steps to move the discipline toward stronger and more reliable knowledge about the human mind. As a final word, and as fervent supporters of CDT, we affirm that it is definitely an elegant theory. However, science should not concern itself with the gracefulness of a theory but only about the solidity of the evidence supporting it and its own falsifiability. The general model of CDT suggests that the detection of an inconsistency will evoke a CDS, which will motivate a regulation strategy. In the previous paragraphs, we made several suggestions for testing CDT in a more reliable way and, as the model is sequential, the suggestions should also respect a step sequence.

Assessing Cognitive Dissonance: 2 Questionnaires

Technological advances are allowing psychologists to study the biomechanics of cognitive dissonance. Throwing trash outside even when knowing this act is against the law, wrong, and could harm animals and the planet is cognitive dissonance, especially if the person feels bad after littering but continues to do so. There are also individual differences in whether or not people act as this theory predicts. Many people seem able to cope with considerable dissonance and not experience the tensions the theory predicts.

  • Before understanding how this theory relates to public relations, it is important to get a well-rounded understanding of what cognitive dissonance is.
  • If John keeps thinking about how miserable he is, it is going to be a very long four years.
  • However, Festinger was convinced that once dissonance exists, there would be attempts to reduce it.
  • Moreover, these expectations were assimilated into the ratings of the actual experience of the bitterness and pungency of the oil.
  • You may initially feel pretty upset — ”just one more daily annoyance.” But then you rationalize.

Their behaviour confirmed predictions from his cognitive dissonance theory, whose premise was that people need to maintain consistency between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It is possible to resolve cognitive dissonance by either changing one’s behavior or changing one’s beliefs so they are consistent with each other. Negative consequences of cognitive dissonance reduction include procrastination or acting seemingly contrary to our values and beliefs. However, it can be beneficial to remind ourselves that it exists as a psychological safety mechanism to help us perceive the world consistently and to protect the perception we have about ourselves.

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