Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Everyone has their own opinion regarding any topic or issue. However, sometimes, there is a conflict between two opinions. For example, suppose a person values and desires a healthy body but continues consuming unhealthy junk food. The person is bothered by the difference in two attitudes central to the attitude system. What will the person feel when they eat something unhealthy? guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, and shame? We all face mental discomfort when we have opposing views or actions on the same topic.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Leon Festinger developed the Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Cognitive factors that are inconsistent with one another include knowledge, views, beliefs, and a person's actions. Such inconsistency generates mental distress, which prompts the person to make efforts to lessen or remove it. We have millions of cognitions, most of which we are unaware of. Festinger postulated three possible relationships between a pair of cognitive components. In the beginning, two cognitive components might be pertinent and consonant. Second, two cognitive components that are pertinent yet dissonant may exist. However, it could be challenging to pinpoint the connection because two parts might sound discordant in one setting but not in another. For example, two attitudes that a person holds are opposite and inconsistent. This would cause mental discomfort because there is cognitive dissonance.

Assumptions of the Theory

There are some basic assumptions that Festinger made about human behavior.

  • People are sensitive to conflicts between ideas and actions. The theory contends that we can recognize, to some extent, when our actions are at odds with our opinions, attitudes, and beliefs. Whether we like it or not, there is a built-in alarm that sounds when we notice such an inconsistency. You will notice and be impacted by this inconsistency, for instance, if you believe that cheating is wrong but find that you are cheating on a test.

  • When this inconsistency is recognized, dissonance results, which inspires a person to address the issue. This notion holds that one cannot ignore this kind of mental discomfort. A person who suffers from inconsistency suffers from mental anguish. The degree of dissonance varies depending on how important the belief, attitude, or value is to you and how inconsistently your actions match this conviction. In any case, the theory holds that the more dissonance there is, the more motivated one is to find a solution.

Research Paradigms in Dissonance Research

The theory's important research has focused on what happens after people make decisions, the consequences of being exposed to information that contradicts a prior belief, the effects of effort expenditure, and what happens after people act in ways that contradict their beliefs and attitudes.

The Free-Choice Paradigm

When a decision is taken, cognitive dissonance is likely to arise. Following the choice, each of the negative elements of the selected option and the favorable characteristics of the rejected alternative is discordant with the decision. On the other hand, the decision is consistent with each of the selected option's good elements, and the rejected alternative's bad aspects. Difficult decisions should elicit more dissonance than easy decisions because a difficult decision will result in a higher proportion of discordant cognitions than an easy one. As a result, there will be more desirable to alleviate cognitive dissonance following a tough decision. 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.

The Belief-Disconfirmation Paradigm

People experience cognitive dissonance when confronted with knowledge that contradicts their views. Suppose the cognitive dissonance needs to be addressed by modifying one's beliefs. In that case, it might lead to misconception or misreading of the situation information, information rejection or rebuttal, seeking support from people who agree with one's belief, and striving to persuade others to accept one's opinion Festinger, Riecken and Schachter (1956) investigated the influence of belief disconfirmation on evangelizing by acting as participant observers in a group that had been devoted to a significant belief that was detailed enough to be capable of unequivocal disconfirmation. The organization was certain that a deluge would swallow the continent based on a prophecy.

The Effort-Justification Paradigm

Dissonance occurs when a person engages in an unpleasant activity to achieve a good goal. It follows from the cognition that the action is unpleasant and that one would not engage in it; the cognition that the activity is unpleasant is discordant with engaging in it. The more the dissonance, the greater the uncomfortable effort necessary to get the desired result. Dissonance can be decreased by increasing the outcome's attractiveness, which increases consonant cognitions.

The Induced-Compliance Paradigm

Dissonance occurs when someone does or says something that contradicts a previously held opinion or attitude. One would not engage in such activity if one were aware of past thoughts or attitudes. Incentives to participate in such activity, such as promises of reward or threats of punishment, give cognitions consistent with the action, and such thoughts give excuses for actions. The larger the quantity and significance of cognitions supporting the conduct, the less dissonance there is. Dissonance can be decreased by adjusting one's opinion or attitude to match what was spoken more closely. Instead of the original phrase, forced compliance, this paradigm is now called induced compliance.

How to Resolve Dissonance

When there are two opposing attitudes, one will feel discomfort due to that discrepancy. To relieve that mental discomfort, either of the attitudes needs to change. The first way is to change your beliefs. Changing beliefs is the easiest approach to making your behaviors and beliefs more consistent. Such a course of action is unlikely if the belief is significant to you and is core to who you are.

Furthermore, since we heavily rely on our worldview to predict events and organize our thoughts, our fundamental attitudes and beliefs are fairly stable, and people do not just randomly change them. Consequently, even though this is the most straightforward method for resolving dissonance, it is probably not the most popular. For example, if one believes smoking is bad for health but continues to do it, it would cause mental discomfort. However, if the person just changed their belief that smoking is not bad for health, then the discomfort would resolve. However, as mentioned, if the attitude is central to our value system, this would be challenging as the person knows the consequences of smoking

Changing actions is another way of resolving this mental discomfort. Making sure you never repeat this behavior is a second choice. Guilt and anxiety may serve as catalysts for behavioral modification. Aversive conditioning, or being made to feel guilty or anxious, can frequently be a rather bad learning method, especially if one cannot experience these emotions. Additionally, the activity that goes against your principles might serve your interests somehow. The challenge would be eliminating this emotion without altering your beliefs or behavior, which brings us to the third and perhaps most popular approach to problem-solving. For example, in the above example, if the person changed his action of smoking, this would resolve the discomfort.

Another way of resolving cognitive dissonance is to change the perception of action. Changing the way you see, remember, or perceive your conduct is a more complicated approach to resolution. one would "rationalize" their behaviors. In other words, one reframes their thought or context around their behavior so that it no longer appears to conflict with it. For example, you could change the way smoking is perceived by others, but this is difficult because the person would still know that smoking has harmful effects.


Leon Festinger formulated the cognitive Dissonance Theory. Festinger introduced this concept, which is an important one in social psychology. When two attitudes regarding the same topic are opposed, they cause mental discomfort. Festinger worked on this and proposed that there should be consonance between two attitudes and that there are ways to resolve this mental conflict. The attitude, the way the person perceives the issue, or the action can be changed. Applying either of these options can help a person resolve that mental conflict.