The Balance Theory of Attitude

Fritz Heider proposed the Balance Theory of Attitude. It is one of the cognitive consistency theories that dominated social psychology in the 1960s. According to Heider, there are two kinds of structures: balanced and imbalanced. A balanced structure is when your best friend likes your favorite rock band; an imbalanced structure is when your best friend dislikes your favorite rock band. According to the balance theory, the first scenario makes you happy, while the second scenario induces uneasy anxiety.

What does Cognitive Consistency Theory Describe?

Consistency theories postulate that when cognitive components are incongruent, people will be motivated to alter their attitudes or behavior to bring the whole back into balance. The balance theory examines the connections between the three cognitive components and offers solutions for imbalance. According to the dissonance theory, inconsistency frequently arises after a decision between options or when people act in a way that is at odds with their attitudes. The idea also suggests altering one of the components or the significance of the cognitions involved as two strategies to lessen dissonance.

What is Attribution, According to Heider?

By providing a concise yet frequently appropriate description of what occurs, Attribution helps to create a stable and predictable environment. It also helps us predict what will happen and what we should do in response. We repeatedly discover that feelings and perceptions put themselves into simple, harmonious structures. When we learn that someone we like did something we do not like, we face an unbalanced situation and are prone to trying to make it more harmonic.

What is the Balance Theory of Attitude?

When two persons share the same values, a relationship will be balanced. For instance, if two friends share liberal political philosophies, their friendship will be harmonious. Their affinities for one another are congruent with their shared liberal views. When two persons contact one another, if one is politically liberal and the other is conservative, they may not get along due to their divergent political views. Again, there is a balance in this connection; the two persons do not get along because they have different morals. It has been demonstrated that balanced relationships not only last longer and are more satisfying, but they also happen more frequently. However, if two people are friends but hold divergent political beliefs, their friendship will likely feel unbalanced. There will be attempts to restore the equilibrium due to the negative tension and arousal produced by this. This can be done by either having a different attitude toward one another or having a different attitude that is more consistent with the other. Although these facets of balancing theory are beneficial, they do not address the initial question of why similarity should matter.

Elements of the Balance Theory

Heider introduced the P-O-X model, often known as Heider's Balance Theory, in 1958. It consists of three elements.

  • The perceiver, abbreviated P.

  • Then there is O, another individual, and

  • X, a perception object.

As a result, these pieces are paired up and have two different kinds of relationships: unit relations and affective relations. Unit relations depend on resemblance, ownership, and comparable membership between pairs of items. The foundation of affective relationships is liking and disliking. Affective and unit relations can be either positive or negative. Heider added that elements could be in a balance or an unbalanced state. When in balance, the person feels calm and tension-free. On the other hand, a situation of imbalance between elements causes tension and encourages individuals to restore balance.

Let us use an example to understand better. Let us say John (P) likes both Selena (O) and Stephen (X). Stephen, however, does not like Selena. In this case, John and Selena's relationships are good, but Stephen and Selena's are bad, and John finds this situation distressing. Now, John must choose between changing his relationship with Selena or Stephen. The balance can be restored if he begins to dislike Stephen, or he should begin to dislike Selena.

Unit Relation

According to balance theory, the perception that two objects or people belong together can produce a positive relationship. In contrast, believing that two things or people do not belong together might produce a negative relationship. These relationships are often referred to as "unit relations." Positive unit relations can arise from proximity, resemblance, or closeness, such as the same ethnic heritage, affiliation with the same soccer team, or hairstyle. On the other hand, negative unit relations can be caused by separation, dissimilarity, or distinctness, such as belonging to different soccer teams, having different hairstyles, or coming from various ethnic backgrounds.

Affective Relation

These are our assessments of objects and people, such as our love or hate, acceptance or rejection, worship or condemnation, etc. Heider makes things simpler for us by restricting emotion to likes and dislikes.

The Balance Theory and Attraction

The balance theory might provide an explanation for how reciprocity functions in attraction. According to this hypothesis, we gravitate toward others who share our values. Therefore, we are more likely to be drawn to someone who regards us equally in how we value ourselves. The self-fulfilling prophecy effect may also improve mutual attraction when we know that someone likes us. We are more inclined to act in a friendly manner, and so improve the likelihood that the person we are engaging with likes us if we believe they do.


The study of interpersonal relationships, attitude change, social cognition, and other research areas have benefited from the widespread use of balance principles. Additionally, they offered a fresh perspective on motivation in that the drive to alter one's behavior was caused by the arrangement of cognitive factors rather than viscerogenic need states, which were taken into account in most motivational studies. According to Gestalt principles, a structure's overall pattern impacts its motivational effects