Balance Theory

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Description of Balance Theory. Explanation.


Balance TheoryDefinition Balance Theory. Description.

Balance Theory is is a psychological concept that describes relationships amongst cognitions..

The Balance Theory has been pioneered by Fritz Heider in 1946.

In simple terms, according to Heider:

  • My friendís friend is my friend.
  • My friendís enemy is my enemy.
  • My enemyís friend is my enemy.
  • My enemyís enemy is my friend.

He depicted liking relationships among a triad: the Perceiver (P), the attitude Object (X) and the Other Person (O). Any resulting combination, whether a perceiver likes a concept or the other person or vice versa, is represented with minus and plus signs. When plus overcome minus there is balance; in case of an imbalanced relationship the Balance Theory predicts that an attitude change would take place to restore the balance.

The 8 Configurations of Balance Theory

In any triad there can be 8 relational configurations, relationships from 1 to 4 are balanced and those from 5 to 8 are unbalanced:


  1. P+O; P+X; O+X
  2. P+O; P-X; O-X
  3. P-O; P+X; O-X
  4. P-O; P-X; P+X

Unbalanced (likely to be turned into the above balanced relationships in order to restore balance):

  1. P+O; P+X; O-X
  2. P+O; P-X; O+X
  3. P-O; P+X; O+X
  4. P-O; P-X; O-X

Balance Theory Example

A well-known example of Balance Theory is the triadic relationship between Michael Jordan (O), Nike Shoes (X) and the Potential Customer (P). When a Potential Customer likes Michael Jordan (P+O), and Jordan states Nike Shoes are great (O+X), if he doesnít like Nike Shoes (P-X) he feels uncomfortable and the relationship is imbalanced. Therefore to restore the balance he will change his attitude into (P+X) thus returning to configuration number 1.

Benefits and Shortcomings of Balance Theory

The main advantage of Balance theory is that when we are aware of any inconsistency we may consider that an attitude change is likely to happen. Although people donít relate any cognitions to each other to find inconsistencies.

The main limitations of Balance Theory are:

  1. In configurations 3,4,7,8 when P doesnít like O the theory doesnít work well;
  2. The theory makes no prediction on how imbalance will be restored;
  3. The quality of the message content (O +/- X) is ignored;
  4. Relationships within the triad are not quantifiable, there can be cases where a plus is stronger than a minus or than an other plus.

Using Balance Theory

The use of Balance Theory has been particularly effective in celebrity advertising campaigns based on famous testimonials. When a celebrity supports a product or a service all people who like her/him start feeling attracted by the same product / service to achieve a psychological balance. In this perspective, when designing a celebrity-based advertising campaign, it is effective to use a personality that can be considered an idol by a companyís target market. Michael Jordan would not have been so effective in endorsing a PC or a make-up product.

The Balance Theory is also known as Cognitive Balance and conceptually it is very similar to the concept of Congruity Theory, which tried to partially overcome the limitation of point 2.

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Compare with: Social Judgment Theory  |  Cognitive Dissonance  |  Congruity Theory  |  Impression Management  |  Attribution Theory  |  Employee Attitude Survey  |  Theory of Planned Behavior  |  Changing Organization Cultures  |  Appreciative Inquiry  |  Hawthorne Effect  |  Coaching  |  Mentoring

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