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Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Leon Festinger developed the cognitive
dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957)
Dissonance occurs when a person perceives a
logical inconsistency in their beliefs, when one idea
implies the opposite of another.
Inconsistency among beliefs or behaviors
will cause an uncomfortable psychological tension.
The dissonance might be experienced as
guilt, anger, frustration, or even embarrassment.
This will lead people to change their
beliefs to fit their actual behavior, rather than the other
way around, as popular wisdom may suggest.
Humans are sensitive to inconsistencies
between actions and beliefs.
Recognition of this inconsistency will
cause dissonance, and will motivate an individual to resolve
Dissonance will be resolved in one of three
a. Change beliefs
b. Change actions
c. Change perception of action
APPLICATION OF THE MODEL BYFESTINGER
& CARLSMITH (1959)
The classic experiment by Festinger
& Carlsmith, 1959 (Boring
In this experiment all participants were
required to do what all would agree was a boring task and then
to tell another subject that the task was exciting. Half of
the subjects were paid $1 to do this and half were paid $20.
Following this, all subjects were asked to rate how much they
liked the boring task. This latter measure served as the
experimental criterion/the dependent measure. According to
behaviorist/reinforcement theory, those who were paid $20
should like the task more because they would associate the
payment with the task. Cognitive dissonance theory, on the
other hand, would predict that those who were paid $1 would
feel the most dissonance since they had to carry out a boring
task and lie to an experimenter, all for only 1$. This would
create dissonance between the belief that they were not stupid
or evil, and the action which is that they carried out a
boring tasked and lied for only a dollar (see Figure 2).
Therefore, dissonance theory would predict that those in the
$1 group would be more motivated to resolve their dissonance
by reconceptualizing/rationalizing their actions. They would
form the belief that the boring task was, in fact, pretty fun.
As you might suspect, Festinger’s prediction, that those in
the $1 would like the task more, proved to be correct.
Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive
dissonance, Evanston, IL: Row & Peterson.
Festinger, L. & Carlsmith, J. M.
(1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. Journal
of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203:210.