Cognitive Dissonance Theory Essay

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Cognitive dissonance theory posits that individuals seek to maintain consistency among multiple cognitions (e.g., thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, values, beliefs). Inconsistent cognitions produce unpleasant arousal that leads individuals to reduce dissonance by: (1) changing one’s cognition so that all cognitions are in agreement, (2) adopting cognitions that strengthen the ”desirable cognition, or (3) reducing the importance assigned to the inconsistency.

Heider’s (1946: The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations) balance theory stated that people strive for balanced relationships between individuals and objects within their environment. Because unstable cognitions are difficult to maintain, people make adjustments in order to regain consistency. Festinger (1957) theorized that the driving force behind the need for balance was the aversive arousal caused by inconsistent cognitions.

Aronson (1969) introduced a ”self-concept theory, which presumed that individuals are motivated by a threat to the self-concept caused by inconsistent cognitions.

Bem (1965) offered a non-motivational explanation for attitudinal change. His ”self-perception theory stated that people s attitudes are established by reflecting on their behavior and then forming attitudes consistent with that behavior. Thus, a change in behavior leads to a change in attitude.

Zanna & Cooper (1974: “Dissonance and the pill: an attribution approach to studying the arousal properties of dissonance”) concluded that arousal caused by internal imbalance motivates attitude change, while arousal caused by external factors does not influence attitude change.

Steele & Liu (1983: “Dissonance processes as self-affirmation”) suggested that attitude change resulting from dissonance is caused by a need for a positive self-image rather than a need for cognitive consistency.

Cooper & Fazio (1984: “A new look at dissonance theory”) suggested that dissonance occurs when individuals violate a societal norm.

Dissonance studies have used several paradigms to arouse dissonance such as “forced compliance” and “hypocrisy models.” In addition to dissonance arousal and relief, researchers have also applied cognitive dissonance theory to many real-world areas including culture, social support, and health and prevention.


  1. Aronson, E. (1969) The theory of cognitive dissonance: a current perspective. In: Berkowitz, L. (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 4. Academic Press, New York, pp. 2—34.
  2. Bem, D. (1965) An experimental analysis of self-persuasion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 1: 199—218.

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