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Festinger's Cognitive Dissonance

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: January 24, 2006
Latest Update: January 24, 2006

E-Mail Icon jeannecurran@habermas.org
takata@uwp.edu

Index of Topics on Site Backup of Cognitive Dissonance (Leon Festinger)
By Greg Kearsley
SOURCE:Theory into Practice Website
Copyright: Source Copyright.
Copyright 1994-2005, Greg Kearsley (gkearsley@sprynet.com) http://home.sprynet.com/~gkearsley
Included here under Fair Use Doctrine for teaching purposes.
This backup copy is to be used only if the original site on the Web is not accessible. It is meant to preserve the document for teaching purposes, when sometimes the URLS are changed when sites are updated, or sites are eliminated. Please be certain to give credit if you refer to this to the original URL: http://tip.psychology.org/festinge.html. Original URL, consulted: January 24, 2006.

Cognitive Dissonance (L. Festinger)

Overview:

According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. In the case of a discrepancy between attitudes and behavior, it is most likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior.

Two factors affect the strength of the dissonance: the number of dissonant beliefs, and the importance attached to each belief. There are three ways to eliminate dissonance: (1) reduce the importance of the dissonant beliefs, (2) add more consonant beliefs that outweigh the dissonant beliefs, or (3) change the dissonant beliefs so that they are no longer inconsistent.

Dissonance occurs most often in situations where an individual must choose between two incompatible beliefs or actions. The greatest dissonance is created when the two alternatives are equally attractive. Furthermore, attitude change is more likely in the direction of less incentive since this results in lower dissonance. In this respect, dissonance theory is contradictory to most behavioral theories which would predict greater attitude change with increased incentive (i.e., reinforcement).

Scope/Application:

Dissonance theory applies to all situations involving attitude formation and change. It is especially relevant to decision-making and problem-solving.

Example:

Consider someone who buys an expensive car but discovers that it is not comfortable on long drives. Dissonance exists between their beliefs that they have bought a good car and that a good car should be comfortable. Dissonance could be eliminated by deciding that it does not matter since the car is mainly used for short trips (reducing the importance of the dissonant belief) or focusing on the cars strengths such as safety, appearance, handling (thereby adding more consonant beliefs). The dissonance could also be eliminated by getting rid of the car, but this behavior is a lot harder to achieve than changing beliefs.

Principles:

  1. Dissonance results when an individual must choose between attitudes and behaviors that are contradictory.

  2. Dissonance can be eliminated by reducing the importance of the conflicting beliefs, acquiring new beliefs that change the balance, or removing the conflicting attitude or behavior.

References:

  • Brehm, J. & Cohen, A. (1962). Explorations in Cognitive Dissonance. New York: Wiley.

  • Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Festinger, L. & Carlsmith, J.M. (1959). Cognitive Consquences of Forced Compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203-210.
    [available at http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Festinger/. Link working on January 24, 20006. jeanne

  • Wickland, R. & Brehm, J. (1976). Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance. NY: Halsted Press.

Relevant Web Sites:

Some relevant web sites to examine include:



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