What Is Cognitive Dissonance Theory;Real Examples of Cognitive Dissonance

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is defined as the tension or discomfort we experience when we have two opposing and incompatible ideas or when our beliefs do not correspond to what we do.Cognitive dissonance is one of the most recurring concepts in psychology.The construct was developed by the US Leon Festinger (1919-1989).Festinger conducted experiments on social psychology and visual perception,  and anti-behaviorist.

For example: I smoke, but I know it has been scientifically proven that smoking kills; therefore: I am convinced that these researches are not so scientific.Or, more classical: the fox, who wants to grab but can not reach it, declares to himself that he is not yet mature.

What we do with cognitive dissonance?

When we feel tension or discomfort in the face of two incompatible ideas, we try to eliminate or avoid the uncomfortable situation and the information that can feed it. We therefore seek to reduce dissonance. To do this, there are several ways, such as changing behavior or attitude, changing the environment or adding new information and knowledge. So, we will find that we all fell into cognitive dissonance.

For example, when you do not go to the gym although it is a weekly commitment, when you eat chocolate even if you are following a diet, when you want something and you can not get it, then criticize it, underestimating it when you smoke a cigarette even if your doctor ‘ forbidden or when you bought something that does not meet your expectations. The fact of not going to the gym goes against the desire to “lose the pounds too much” or to “lead a healthy life”. You have not gone to the gym now, so what is easier, changing something you did in the past, changing a habit or changing what you believe in?

The theory adds new beliefs, changing what you already have or taking away from them to eliminate inconsistency . “If you go to the gym, you notice after a while, nothing happens if I have not gone once,” “For once, it does not change anything,” “I will go next week.” You can change your beliefs in many ways, keeping your ultimate goal, that is to give value to the option you choose with respect to the discarded alternative. The same applies to other examples.

It also includes opinions, attitudes, beliefs, values, constructs that have a cognitive component, but which include more pronounced effective and reactive aspects. For this path, extending the definition of cognitive elements to psychological processes where receptive components are so closely related to reactive ones, the theory of cognitive dissonance becomes relevant also for the study and for the explanation of psychological phenomena concerning what the person feels and does, the manifest behavior of the subject, his choices.

How to solve Cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance allows us to restore balance, reorder thoughts and emotions whenever we are experiencing a moment of inequality or incoherence that undermines our well-being and causes us doubts and suffering.

To restore this balance you need to change one of the cognition so that they are no longer inconsistent. Festinger has identified three modes that people use to reduce inconsistency:

  • Changing Your Behavior : When dissonance is caused by an inconsistency between our behavior and environmental awareness, the simplest and most immediate strategy is to change behavior by understanding it with knowledge;
  • Producing a change in the environment : this strategy is more complicated because it is difficult to have so much control over your environment;
  • Changing your cognitive world : We can reduce dissonance by changing our minds and attitudes by seeking evidence for inconsistent behavior and continuing to defend it (for example, a smoker – while knowing that smoking is hurting – will continue to say that just smoking it is nice, or that the risks to his health are not really as worrying as others would want to believe it.)


The theory of cognitive dissonance is considered so important because it really revolutionized social psychology. Festinger is especially credited for having helped overcome the domain of behaviorism (that only observable behaviors could be studied and analyzed, without paying attention to cognitive or emotional processes), which had dominated psychology until those years.

The strength of Festinger’s theory is that cognitive dissonance affects us all, in many of the choices we have to make every day. It has certainly happened to each of us, and it will still happen in the future, to face a situation of incongruity and imbalance. Being aware of the ways in which cognitive dissonance affects us could, however, help us put in place better strategies and avoid unpleasant consequences.

by Abdullah Sam
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