Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced
by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs,
ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information
that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
People engage in a process called dissonance reduction to
bring their cognitions and actions in line with one another.
Dissonance reduction can be achieved in four ways. In an example
case could be a situation where someone has decided that he will
avoid eating sweets, but has found himself eating a dessert.
The four methods of reduction would be:
- Change behavior or cognition
- "I will not eat any more of this dessert"
- Justify behavior or cognition by changing the conflicting
- "I'm allowed to cheat every once in a while"
- Justify behavior or cognition by adding new cognitions
- "I'll spend 30 extra minutes at the gym to work this
- Ignore or deny any information that conflicts with existing
- "This dessert does not contain that much sugar"
Festinger L (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California:
Stanford University Press.
Belief Disconfirmation Paradigm
If the dissonance is not reduced by a change in one's belief,
the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through:
- Rejection or refutation of the information
- Seeking support from others who share the beliefs
- Attempting to persuade others
Harmon-Jones E (2002), A Cognitive Dissonance Theory Perspective
on Persuasion, in The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory
and Practice, James Price Dillard, Michael Pfau, eds. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 101.
Individuals rated unpleasant tasks more positively when they
were provided a lesser external incentive to argue that tasks
were actually interesting and engaging, as compared to those
who were provided a greater external incentive to make the same
argument. However, those who had been compensated a greater external
incentive for their contradictory argument were theorized to
have less cognitive dissonance since they received an obvious
compensation, a justification for their behavior.
Festinger L, Carlsmith J (1959). "Cognitive consequences
of forced compliance". Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology
58 (2): 203210.
Forbidden Toy Paradigm
Individuals are more likely to reengage in behaviors that
were previously forbidden, if the risk of punishment (or consequences)
had been more severe. Those who had been faced with less severe
deterrents were less likely to reengage in previously forbidden
behaviors if offered the opportunity free of consequences. The
consequences were not a strong enough deterrent, so subjects
with only a mild deterrent were more likely to have convinced
themselves that the behavior was not worth their efforts in order
to resolve their dissonance.
Aronson E, Carlsmith J (1963). "Effect of the severity
of threat on the devaluation of forbidden behavior". Journal
of Abnormal and Social Psychology 66 (6): 584588.
After an individual makes a choice, the desirability of the
perceived benefits associated with their choice is increased,
while the perceived benefits associated with other options they
surrendered is decreased.
When making a difficult decision, there will
be aspects of the rejected choice that one finds appealing and
these features are dissonant with the alternative choice. In
other words, the choice of choosing X is dissonant with the cognition,
since there are also desirable attributes with choosing Y.
Individuals tend to minimize the regret of irrevocable choices.
Those who placed a bet at the racetrack were found to be more
confident in their chosen horse, just after placing the bet because
they cannot change it. The reportedly felt "post-decision
The ability to freely choose a specific therapy can enhance
the effectiveness of therapy. Mendoca & Brehm (1983) reported
that overweight subjects lost more weight when they believed
that they freely chose the type of therapy they received.
In addition to internal deliberations, the structuring of
decisions among other individuals may influence an individual's
decision. See Anchoring.
Egan LC, Bloom P, Santos R (2010). "Choice-induced
preferences in the absence of choice: Evidence from a blind two
choice paradigm with young children and capuchin monkeys".
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46 (1): 204207.
Knox RE, Inkster JA (1968). Postdecision dissonance at
post time. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4),
Mendonca PJ, Brehm, SS (1983). "Effects of choice
on behavioral treatment of overweight children". Journal
of Social and Clinical Psychology 1: 343358.
Effort Justification Paradigm
Effort justification is an individual's tendency to attribute
a greater value to an outcome which demands a great effort in
acquiring or achieving. In effort justification, there is a dissonance
between the amount of effort exerted into engaging into an activity
(high effort) and the subjective reward (potentially lower than
expected) for that effort. Dissonance can be resolved by increasing
one's subjective value for the reward.
Lepper & Greene (1975) describe how effort Justification
Paradigm has been used in education to increase students' intrinsic
motivation to engage in puzzles by offering no extrinsic reward.
Students who were offered rewards were less interested in puzzles
later, as compared to students who were offered no reward from
Dissonance occurs whenever individuals voluntarily engage
in an unpleasant (ie: embarrassing) activities in effort to achieve
a desired goal. Aronson & Mills (1959) reported that subjects
who had to endure a more severe embarrassment initiation in order
to join a group found the group more interesting than those subjects
who were required to only experience a mild embarrassment initiation.
The effort invested by a client may enhance the effectiveness
of therapy. Axsom & Cooper (1985) conducted a weight loss
study examining the effects of effort justification by subjecting
subjects to series of cognitive tasks that were unrelated to
known weight loss therapies. One of the therapies required a
series of high effort cognitive tasks while the second therapy
required low effort cognitive tasks. A no-treatment control group
was also included. Over an initial 3-week period, high-effort
subjects lost slightly more weight than low-effort subjects or
controls. Significant differences were observed during a 6-month
follow-up. Reliable differences remained even 1 year after the
initial experimental sessions. It was theorized that the effort
involved in therapy in addition to the conscious decision to
undergo that effort, leads to positive therapeutic changes through
the reduction of cognitive dissonance.
Aronson E, Mills J (1959). The effect of severity of initiation
on liking for a group. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,
Axsom D, Cooper J (1985). "Cognitive dissonance and
psychotherapy: The role of effort justification in inducing weight
loss". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 21: 149160.
Lepper MR, Greene D (1975). "Turning play into work:
Effects of adult surveillance and extrinsic rewards on children's
intrinsic motivation" . Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology 31: 479486.
Also see Phenomena Related
to Cognitive Dissonance.
Cognitive Dissonance Theory teaches us how we
resolve internal-conflicts and how we might best instill new
exercise, nutrition, and health behaviors.