Group Contributors:

Anna Rodrigues, Naseem Aidid, Tahani Ibrahimkahn, Neil Supriyo, Jan Mazzulla, Kate Dykstra


Festinger describes dissonance as a type of inconsistency that occurs within an individual when conflicting ideas are held simultaneously. Individuals strive toward consistency (consonance) and this motivates them to reduce dissonance.

Festinger (1957) proposed two basic hypotheses as part of his Cognitive Dissonance Theory:
  1. The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate a person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance.
  2. When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance.


dissonance, consonance, cognition, Festinger, social psychology, induced-compliance, free-choice, believe-disconfirmation, effort-justification



Leon Festinger

"He was a wildly original and provocative scientist" Stanley Schachter (former student who wrote Festinger's biography)

-Social psychologist responsible for a variety of social theories
-Born in New York City in 1919
-Developed early on an interest in science and later decided to pursue a career in psychology
-1939 - Bachelor's of Science, City College of New York
-1942 - Master's and PhD in psychology, Iowa State University
-Studied under Kurt Lewin, a Gestalt theorist at Iowa State
-Released in 1957 A theory of Cognitive Dissonance
-Considered a pioneer of systematic experimental social psychology
-Died in New York City in 1989

Theory and research

(From Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance.)
When an individual is experiencing cognitive dissonance, this person is led toward an activity which will reduce that dissonance. It is a basic process in humans to reduce their level of dissonance, and as such, the reduction is manifested in a variety of contexts. Cognition is noted to be “any knowledge, opinion, or beliefs about the environment, about oneself, or about one’s behaviour” (Festinger, 1957, p.3).

Momentary dissonance may occur when new events occur or new information becomes known to a person and are inconsistent with their existing knowledge or opinions. For example, if an individual feels certain that a particular type of car is not very safe, and yet then reads an article in which this type of vehicle’s safety features are outlined, momentary dissonance may be created.

Dissonance is an everyday condition which can occur even without new events or information. There are very few things in life which can be considered black or white. As a result, opinions and behaviours tend to contain a mixture of contradictions. For example, a person in the market for a new vehicle may prefer the design of one but the fuel economy of another.

An individual may reduce their level of dissonance by changing their cognition about a behaviour by changing their actions. For example, if a smoker experiences dissonance based on learning that smoking is bad for his health, he might simply quit smoking. In this way, his behaviour is consistent with his knowledge. However, this smoker might decide instead to change his beliefs concerning the effects of smoking on his body. He might convince himself that smoking is not as harmful as some might suggest. He also might decide that to quit smoking would cause an increase in weight, which has its own health risks attached. As a result, the individual would continue to smoke. If a person experiences difficulty in changing either behaviour or knowledge, dissonance will likely persist.

Dissonance can occur in a number of situations:
  1. Logical inconsistency – This occurs when an individual is inconsistent with their thinking processes. For example, if one believes that one day humans will be able to live on the moon but also believes that no breathing apparatus can ever be created to sustain life outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, then this person cognitions are dissonant with each other.
  2. Cultural mores – Dissonance can exist when “culture defines what is consonant and what is not” (Festinger, 1957, p.14). Cognitions very between cultures.
  3. A specific opinion is included in a more general opinion – For example, a Conservative may prefer a Liberal candidate during an election.
  4. Past experience – Individuals experience dissonance when knowledge of what is expected during an experience does not correspond with the experience itself. For example, if an individual went outside during the rain but did not get wet, dissonance would occur.

The Induced-Compliance Paradigm

In 1959, a study was undertaken in which students were asked to perform monotonous tasks for one hour. Following the completion of those tasks, researchers asked the subjects to persuade another person coming to perform the experiment that the tasks were quite interesting and enjoyable to perform. One group was paid $1 to perform this favour and another group was paid $20. This study also contained a control group which was not involved in the persuasion portion of the experiment. Each subject was then asked to rate their experience of performing the monotonous tasks. The students who were paid $1 to convince another subject that the tasks were engaging rated the activities more positively than did the other two groups. It was hypothesized that the students who had been paid $1 had internalized the opinion of finding the tasks interesting.

Festinger and Carlsmith’s study found that:
1. an individual will change his/her opinion to correspond with what he/she has said or done if induced to say or to do something contrary to his/her private opinion
2. the tendency noted above is weaker when a larger pressure is used to elicit the overt behaviour (Festinger and Carlsmith, 1959).

The Free-Choice Paradigm

In the fee choice paradigm, developed by Brehm 1956, dissonance occurs as the result of a decision being made. After the person makes a decision, each of the negative aspects of the chosen alternative and positive aspects of the rejected alternative is dissonant with the decision. By contrast each of the positive aspects of the chosen alternative and the negative aspects of the rejected alternative is consonant with the decision.

Difficult decisions arouse more dissonance than easy decisions do, because there is a greater proportion to dissonant cognitions after difficult decision than after easy one.

Post decision dissonance can be reduced by subtracting negative aspects of the chosen alternative or positive aspects to the rejected alternative, or it can be reduced by adding positive aspects to the chosen alternative or negative aspects to the rejected alternative.

Dissonance may be reduced by viewing the chosen alternatives as more desirable and the rejected alternative as less desirable. This effect has been termed spreading of the alternatives. (Harmon 2002).

The Belief Disconfirmation Paradigm

A third paradigm used in the investigation of dissonance theory is the belief disconfirmation paradigm. First used by Festiger, Riecken, and Schachter 1956.

In this paradigm, dissonance comes from exposure to information inconsistent with one's beliefs. When the dissonance is not reduced by changing one's belief, it can lead to misperception or misinterpretation on the information.

Rejection or refutation on the information, seeking support from those who agree with one's belief, and/or trying to persuade others to accept the belief (Harmon 2002).

The Effort-Justification Paradigm

•It is created by having participants justify in similar fashion a position with which they disagree. (Bendersky & Curhan, 2009)
•“insufficient justification" or “force compliance”
•Dissonance is alleviated when people revise their attitude to be more consistent with their behaviour. (Bendersky & Curhan, 2009)
•The greater the effort involved, the greater the dissonance.
•“This suggests that the more effort people have to put into an activity, the more they will seek means to exaggerate the desirability of the outcome of this activity” (White, 2002)


· Students from an isolated community in Maine (Tremont) who attend small local community elementary schools are supported and nurtured to believe that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. When they are sent to large, distant secondary schools, they often drop out of academic stream that will allow them to go on to post-secondary education. (Lawrence, 1999)
· The authors argue that this because the close support system the students were able to tap into during their elementary school years is removed when they are sent to large composite high schools. (Lawrence, 1999)

· Additional arguments include exposure to “national media” which send conflicting messages about the nature of rural people.· In order to overcome the dissonance these students feel they feel that they must either reject the teaching they have received prior to attending high school or reject the new information they are receiving at their new situation.
  • The author argues for the creation of a community centre where the students can continue receive the support and nurturing to which they had become accustomed during their elementary school years.

  • A group of grade nine science students were given a questionnaire which probed their feelings about science as an important schools subject. They were then ranked according to how they scored. All students were then tasked to create a short video extoling the virtues of science as an academic program. Students who had the highest disagreeable view of science noted to have the greatest change in attitude toward science. In effect by arguing the opposite of their existing beliefs they came to modify their opinions in order to reduce the cognitive dissonance they encountered. (Steiner, 1977)
· This study shows that it is possible to create to positive results in students who hold negative attitudes by providing them with an alternate view. Although this was a small study, 135 participants, it showed significant gains in changing student attitudes by creating cognitive dissonance.

· In a study at a university students were told that they were to prepare an argument which would be assessed for its persuasiveness. In fact, the study was looking at creating dissonance and studying the results. Students were asked to write a paper on the topic, “Students should not have representation in planning content of courses taught to them in university. `` The results indicated that students, who wrote against their existing beliefs, changed their belief to be more in line with what they wrote. (Strickland, 1976)

· Students at an Irish university were queried about their feelings about the US led invasion of Iraq. They were given additional information about the reasons for the invasion that they had not previously possessed. They were asked to complete a series of questions posed using PowerPoint slides. Some of the students rather than changing their views, the dissonance created was so great that they dis-engaged from the process and did not complete the task they were asked to. (Buckmaster, 2009)

· The authors also cite the dissonance and the coping mechanisms used by members of the Republican Party in the wake of the Watergate burglaries in 1972 a purposeful misremembering so that they could continue to support the party at large despite the criminal acts perpetrated by some of it members..

Consequences of Cognitive Dissonance [Draft]

  • The Basic Premises
While Akerlof and Dickens thought to represent theory of cognitive dissonance in economists' terms, it had three propositions: First, persons not only have preferences over states of the world, but also over their beliefs about the state of the world. Second, persons have some control over their beliefs; not only are people able to exercise some choice about belief given avail-able information, they can also manipulate their own beliefs by selecting sources of in-formation likely to confirm "desired" beliefs. Third, it is of practical importance for the application of our theory that beliefs once chosen persist over time.
  • The Fundamental Model
They have developed a very complicated mathematical model using two sample group: One: Benzene workers, some of whom denied that they were working with dangerous chemical substances, another one is the worker who work in a nuclear plant
  • Potential Applications
    • Sources of Innovation
First, in the history of science, Thomas Kuhn (1963) has claimed that the persons who first adopt a new scientific paradigm are predominantly new entrants into the field. In the field of industrial organization, it is believed that industrial laboratories are responsible for much minor innovation, but the major innovations mainly come from outside (Edwin Mansfield, 1968, p. 92). John Jewkes et al. (1959) found that prior to World War II only twelve out of the sixty-one major inventions in their study came from industrial laborato-ries. Over half came from private individuals. Daniel Hamberg (1963) reports
    • Advertising
Why do companies spend millions of dollars on advertising campaigns and why are people more likely to buy an advertised brand than one which does not advertise, all other things held equal? This is undoubtedly a complicated question with answers dependent on the particular products and situations. But, the text-books on advertising emphasize one factor: advertisements convey information about the product. The term "information," as used here, does not only refer to facts about the physical attributes of the advertised product. Advertising may also convey information about the social significance of consuming the product and how it may serve the psychological needs of consumers as well as their physical needs. If the information provided by ads generally allowed people to distinguish the functional or psychological value of a product, then it would be easy to understand how it worked to help determine peoples' choices.
    • Social Security
Another application of this type of model of potential economic importance concerns old age insurance. Social Security legislation is based on the belief that persons left to their own devices tend to purchase too little old age insurance. If there are some persons who would simply prefer not to contemplate a time when their earning power is diminished, and if the very fact of saving for old age forces persons into such contemplations, there is an argument for compulsory old age insurance. The case, as we see it, is analogous to the case for safety legislation made in the last section. In that model workers found it uncomfortable to contemplate the dangers involved in working in the hazardous industry. For that reason they sometimes failed to have the appropriate marginal rate of substitution be-tween safety and wages. In a similar mode persons may find it uncomfortable to con-template their old age. For that reason they may make the wrong trade-off, given their own preferences, between current consumption and savings for retirement.

    • Economic Theory of Crime
If you increase the cost of committing a crime, there will be fewer crimes. Psychological experiments motivated by cognitive dissonance theory strongly suggest that Tullock's conclusions are only partially correct. While it may be true that less obedience will be observed when there is greater deterrence, these experiments show that once the threat of punishment is removed, people who have been threatened with relatively severe punishment are more likely to disobey than those threatened with relatively mild punishment. In an experiment that has been performed under a variety of conditions, children are told not to play with a very desirable toy. One group is threatened with severe punishment; and another with mild punishment for disobedience. The children are then allowed to play in the room with the toy for some time. Later (in one experiment several weeks later, see Jonathan Freedman, 1965), the children are again put in the room with the toy, only this time without the threat of punishment. Those who have been threatened with the more severe punishment are more likely to play with the forbidden toy than those threatened with mild punishment. It has similarly been shown that children who are punished severely for aggressive behavior at home are more violent in school than those who are mildly punished (see Robert Sears et al., 1953). The interpretation of these studies is that those who obey rules for which the penalty of violation is relatively small need to create an internal justification for their actions

    • Conflict resolution

Critique of theory

Daryl J. Bern - Self-perception theory

-this theory was proposed as a way to explain the experimental findings of cognitive dissonance theory

-Bern didn't think people were analyzing their beliefs so therefore there would be no conflicting feelings if that is the case

-The $1 versus $20 experiment: people can be paid to change their attitudes

Bendersky ,C & Curhan ,J. (2009).Cognitive Dissonance in Negotition: Free Choice or Justification? Social Cognition, Vol. 27, No. 3, 2009, pp. 455–474. Retrieved 21:47, November 7, 2010, from

Bern, D. J. (1967). Self-Perception: An alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychological Review, 74, 183-200.

Buckmaster, A. &. (2009). Cognitive Dissonance and Students' Opinions on the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Defence Studies, 118-128.

Cognitive dissonance. (2010, November 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:29, November 7, 2010, from

Cognitive Dissonance Theory Leon Festinger (2008), Retrieved 21:47, November 7, 2010, from

Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J.M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58(2), 203–210. Available online at:

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford University Press.

Harmon-Jones, E. (2002). A cognitive dissonance theory perspective on persuasion. The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory and Practice, , 99-116. Retrieved November 03,2010 from:

Lawrence, K. (1999). Culture: The Fulcrum for Levers of Change. Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, (pp. 1-15). Montreal.

Schachter, S. (1994). Leon Festinger: A Biographical Memoir. Washington D.C: National Academy of Sciences.

Steiner, R. (1977). Cognitive Dissonance as a Means of Effecting Changes in School Related Attitudes. Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, (pp. 1-13). Cincinnati.

Strickland, L. e. (1976). Dissonance, Self Percpetion and the Bogus Pipeline. Annual Meeting for the Canadian Psychological Association, (pp. 1-13). Toronto.

White, A. (2002). Cognitive dissonance and discontinous technological innovation. Retrieved 21:47, November 7, 2010, from