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Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Technical Details

Name: Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Author: Leon Festinger
Classification: or Need-to-Know Motivation Theories
Year: 1957


  • Provides cognitive stability within one's life.
  • Framework provides predictability for our or others behaviours.


  • The discomfort created by the dissonance might lead one to choose in believing something that isn't grounded by reality.


The basic concept of the cognitive dissonance theory is that we seek consistency within our beliefs, values, emotions and attitudes. Hence, the simultaneous relationship among them need to be in harmony, otherwise we have a cognitive dissonance which results in a discomfort. The state of discomfort is what drives our motivation to adapt our cognitions in a way that the source of the dissonance becomes harmonious allowing us to regain a state of comfort.

There are three ways that we can reduce the discomforts created by a dissonance.

  1. The first is by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant element.
  2. The second is by changing one of the dissonant.
  3. The third is by adding a new one to ensure that we have a consistent cognitive system.

These three options to reduce the cognitive dissonance are the power behind the predictability of one's behaviors.

Four Different Paradigms

The Belief Disconfirmation Paradigm

This paradigm in its simplest form simply dictates that when/if our belief isn't reducing our discomfort we will simply reject the original belief that created the dissonance in the first place.

The Induced-Compliance Paradigm

This paradigm, put simply is when you are confronted with external a stimulus that produces a state of cognitive dissonance.

The induced-compliance paradigm has been the object of many researches as it is the easiest one to reproduce in a testing environment.

The Free-Choice Paradigm

This paradigm explains that when we are confronted between a difficult choice, we will always augment the cognitive value of the choose choice, while reducing those of the un-chosen one. This doesn't mean that we will totally dismiss the value of the un-chosen item, but that will simply rationally justify the one that we actually chose.

The Effort-Justification Paradigm

The effort-justification paradigm explains that people will cognitively justify the efforts that they expand when working on an un-pleasant goal. In other words and like the title states they will justify their efforts to remove the mental dissonance.


As the induced-compliance paradigm demonstrates there are two sources of dissonances; internal and external. The internal ones are coming from within the individual, while the external ones are coming from outside of the individual with the dissonance.

In Festinger and Carlsmith's classic experiment, in 1959 student were asked to perform a boring task. Their objectives were to have the student generate a negative feeling towards the task. Once that was done, they asked each student to convince another subject that the task was interesting and fun. A third of the group were paid 1$, the second third was paid 20$ and the last third was not asked to perform the convincing.

Those that got paid 1$ rated the task more positively than those whom got paid 20$ at the conclusion of the experiment. This was explained by Festinger and Carlsmith by the fact that those whom got the 1$ had to find internal justifications to resolve the dissonance while those in the 20$ group used the external reward to justify their behaviour.

Thus, in order to predict or encourage certain behaviours, one only needs to control the external elements that will create a cognitive dissonance within your subject. It goes without saying that the more you know and understand your subject, the more you can play on his or her internal cognitive dissonances! No wonder that our children or love ones can really get us down to our raw emotions.

Manipulating those external stimuli is not as hard as you think! Some are expert at putting you in a state of cognitive dissonance! Some, like con-artists will applied those skills to a criminal activity while others, like psychologists, will take those skills and help fellow human reach their full potential!


There haven't been extraneous negative critics of the cognitive dissonance theory. Most, not to say all of the Scientifics are in agreement with the premises of the theory. There have been numerous researches to validate them and I'm certain there will be many more to continue to understand the smaller details of how the theory can be implemented in different social settings.

Future of the Theory

One area that future researches could expand is to reduce prejudices and stereotypes. What do you think the future of the cognitive dissonance theory hold for us?

Want to expand on the discussion?

We encourage you to expand on the discussion, add to the critique or even share your vision with regards to the future applications of the theory.

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