Cognitive Dissonance

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What is Cognitive Dissonance? Meaning.

Cognitive Dissonance is a the stressing mental state people feel when they find themselves doing things that don't fit with their opinions or what they know.

It is an aversive drive that goads people to be consistent. Cognitive Dissonance Theory (CDT) explains the tendency of people to aim for consistency in their thoughts and the consequences of that tendency.

The Cognitive Dissonance concept has been proposed by Leon Festinger in his 1957 publishing “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”, US.

Opposite to Cognitive Balance, Cognitive Dissonance Theory (CDT), together with Balance Theory and Congruity Theory is part of the so called Consistency Theories.

Festinger predicted that people will look for information that is likely to confirm and support existing attitudes and views, avoiding simultaneously information that is incongruent to existing attitudes and views.

Cognitive DissonanceFestinger sees 3 different possible relationships among cognitions:

  1. Consonance
  2. Dissonance, and
  3. Irrelevance. Compare: Social Judgment Theory

Basically two ideas that are consistent are consonant. If they are inconsistent they are dissonant. And if they are unrelated or unconnected they are irrelevant.

As the other consistency theories, CDT predicts that dissonance initiates an uncomfortable feeling that leads towards attitude change in order to reestablish consonance.

As an example, consider individuals who talk about their need to lose weight while continuing to eat prodigious amounts of food. From the moment these individuals choose to be cognizant that their actions (eating too much food) and perceptions (they are fat and need to lose weight) are dissonant, they will either need to change their diet or decide that maybe they aren’t so fat.

CDT has been able to overcome some of the limitations of its predecessor Balance Theory and converted them into 3 main benefits:

  1. Can consider more than 2 cognitions at time.
  2. Allows quantification of the importance level of each cognition, so the amount of dissonance is quantifiable too. The latter is a result of:
    1. The proportion of dissonant and consonant cognitions.
    2. The importance of cognitions.
  3. Suggests 3 solutions to reinstate consonance:
    1. Change a cognition to reduce dissonance.
    2. If someone experiences dissonance, can think and add a new cognition.
    3. Change the importance of a cognition.

The main limitation of Cognitive Dissonance is that it cannot advise on how to cut back dissonance in any relational configuration. This is however possible using Congruity Theory.

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