Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance

Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance is the most widely researched cognitive consistency theory. It suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony. Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes.

Cognitive dissonance theory is concerned with any instances when two cognitions are psychologically inconsistent. The creation of dissonance is similar to the creation of imbalance and is thought to be distressful and motivates the person to restore consonance.

Dissonance is a negative drive state which occurs when two ideas or beliefs are psychologically inconsistent. Festinger defined it as the difference between two ideas that are not mutually incompatible. For example, a smoker might have read that smoking leads to cancer but have not witnessed it.

However, three important factors play a role to verify if cognitive dissonance occurs when people carry out a behavior that is inconsistent with their attitudes, and hence whether attitude change occurs.

Decision making: Dissonance theory assumes that dissonance occurs when an individual has to choose between two alternatives. The person experiences post decisional dissonance because of selecting an alternative with negative aspects and rejected others with positive aspects. For example, a person who wants to buy a new car has to choose between two reputed brands. The person will only read articles and magazines that praise his car and at the same time ignores reports that criticize their car.

Forced Compliance: forced compliance occurs when an individual acts inconsistent with his or her beliefs. Dissonance will need to be reduced by re-evaluating their attitude to what they have done. In an intriguing experiment, participants were asked to perform a series of dull tasks. They were then paid either $1 or $20 to tell a waiting participant that the tasks were really interesting. Almost all of the participants agreed to walk into the waiting room and persuade the subject accomplice that the boring experiment would be fun. The participants who were paid only $1 rated the tedious task as more fun and enjoyable than the participants who are paid $20 for the lie.

Investment or justification of effort: When an individual puts a lot of effort to achieve something towards which he/she has a favorable attitude, it becomes more important to their self-concept. If there is a dissonance here the effects also would be stronger. For example, a person has put in a lot to join a golf club. But later he found that the sport is boring and dull for him.

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