Cognitive Dissonance Theory



"Cognitive Dissonance Theory" by Leon Festinger. Festinger believed that individuals could experience a particular feeling of "imbalance" when they "find themselves doing things that don't fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold" (1957, p. 4). When a person experiences this imbalance or "dissonance," Festinger explains they will take steps to reduce or eliminate it from their environment. 

What this means, in a nutshell, is... when we find ourselves in a communicative episode - particularly in social situations - and we feel uneasy about what people are talking about, discussing or even actively participating in, we will attempt to change that situation to be more comfortable. This change can come in terms of altering the conversation and communication to something we are more knowledgeable of or maybe removing ourselves from the situation altogether. Your textbook has a great visual that explains it simply... see the attached image. 

There are some assumptions that this theory takes into account, however... 

  •  Human beings desire consistency in their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.
  •  Dissonance is created by psychological inconsistencies.
  •  Dissonance is an aversive state that drives people to actions with measurable effects.
  •  Dissonance motivates efforts to achieve consonance and efforts toward dissonance reduction (West & Turner, 2014). 

So, taking into account the concept of cognitive dissonance... and the above assumptions... let's apply it. 

Imagine yourself having an argument with some friends to change their drinking and driving behaviors. What suggestions would you take from the Cognitive Dissonance Theory? How could you apply the theory to persuading your friends? 

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