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Posted: September 6th, 2023

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE THEORY by Leon Festinger

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE THEORY by Leon Festinger
Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory (1957) explains how people handle psychological inconsistencies in their beliefs and actions. Festinger argues that inconsistency causes mental tension or dissonance, and people will attempt to resolve this tension in one of three ways: by changing their beliefs, changing their behavior, or changing their perception of the behavior. In this article, we will explore Festinger’s theory in more detail, focusing on the assumptions and the cognitive dissonance model.

Assumptions:
Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory is based on three fundamental assumptions. Firstly, humans are sensitive to inconsistencies between their beliefs and actions. Secondly, when a person recognizes such inconsistencies, they experience dissonance, which motivates them to resolve the inconsistency. Thirdly, dissonance is resolved in one of three ways: changing beliefs, changing actions, or changing perception of action.

Cognitive Dissonance Model:
The cognitive dissonance model explains how dissonance arises and how it is resolved. Festinger’s model proposes that dissonance arises when a person’s beliefs or actions are inconsistent with each other. The inconsistency creates mental discomfort that motivates the person to resolve the dissonance. The resolution of dissonance can occur through one of three methods:

Changing beliefs: If a person’s beliefs are inconsistent with their actions, they may change their beliefs to reduce the dissonance. For example, a person who is opposed to smoking may start to justify their smoking habit to reduce the mental discomfort caused by their inconsistency.

Changing actions: Alternatively, a person can change their behavior to reduce dissonance. For example, a person who believes in healthy eating may start to eat more fruits and vegetables to reduce the dissonance caused by their unhealthy eating habits.

Changing perception of action: Lastly, a person can reduce dissonance by changing their perception of their actions. For example, a person who participates in a protest march may come to view their participation as less significant than they initially believed, thus reducing the dissonance caused by their participation in an event that did not lead to significant change.

Application of the Model by Festinger & Carlsmith (1959):
Festinger and Carlsmith conducted a classic experiment in 1959 to demonstrate the principles of cognitive dissonance. The experiment involved participants performing a tedious task and then telling another person that the task was enjoyable. Half the participants were paid $1 to perform the task, while the other half were paid $20. Afterward, all participants were asked to rate how much they enjoyed the task.

Behaviorist theory predicted that those who were paid $20 would enjoy the task more because they associated the payment with the task. However, cognitive dissonance theory predicted that those who were paid $1 would feel more dissonance because they carried out a boring task and lied to the experimenter for only $1. This dissonance created a conflict between their belief that they were not stupid or evil and their action of carrying out a tedious task and lying. Festinger predicted that those in the $1 group would be more motivated to resolve their dissonance by reconceptualizing or rationalizing their actions. He predicted that they would come to believe that the boring task was, in fact, enjoyable.

The results of the experiment confirmed Festinger’s prediction. Those in the $1 group reported enjoying the task more than those in the $20 group. Festinger explained this result by saying that those in the $1 group had to justify their behavior to themselves by convincing themselves that the task was enjoyable.

Conclusion:
Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory explains how people handle psychological inconsistencies between their beliefs and actions. The theory proposes that inconsistency leads to mental discomfort

References
Harmon-Jones, E., & Mills, J. (2021). Cognitive dissonance theory: Understanding the social psychological roots of the extremist radicalization process. American Psychologist, 76(1), 73-85.
This article explores the role of cognitive dissonance theory in the extremist radicalization process. The authors argue that the theory can help explain how individuals become radicalized and how they maintain their extremist beliefs despite disconfirming evidence. They also discuss how cognitive dissonance theory can inform interventions aimed at reducing extremist attitudes and behaviors.

Lieberman, M. D. (2020). The role of cognitive dissonance in social behavior. In The Oxford Handbook of Social Influence (pp. 144-157). Oxford University Press.
This chapter provides an overview of the role of cognitive dissonance theory in social behavior. The author discusses the history and basic tenets of the theory, as well as its relevance to a range of social phenomena, including attitude change, persuasion, and decision making. The chapter also covers recent advances in the field and directions for future research.

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