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Cognitive Dissonance Theory by Leon Festinger

Leon Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory

The main idea underlying Cognitive Dissonance is that if a person knows of things  inconsistent psychologically, he would try in ways to make them consistent. This lack of consistency between various cognitions is known as dissonance.  The general tendency in people is to seek consistency among their beliefs and opinions. They try to eliminate the dissonance. For example, if we try to hold two contrasting beliefs regarding the same thing it will give rise to a disharmony in our perception. It means one cannot believe and disbelieve in God at the same time because that will give rise to confusion.  People try to eliminate the dissonance in multiple ways. Leon Festinger had developed his theory in 1957 regarding the relationship between the various cognitions.

People want consonance in their cognitions, but it is not always possible to have it. Several times, one cognition contradicts the other. As the degree of discrepancy between two cognitions increases, with it the dissonance also rises.  Festinger had stated it like this, “The greater the difficulty before making the decision, the higher the dissonance afterwards”.

People come across such situations most often and it is why the dissonance theory is considered so relevant to decision making. For example, You bought an expensive gadget you thought would provide better utility. Later, you realized it does not have the functions found in the simpler gadgets. Before purchasing you had believed that its expensiveness meant better utility. You would try to eliminate the dissonance by deciding that it does not matter since you do not use use it too often. Otherwise, you will try to focus on its other features like attractiveness and its strength. You can eliminate the dissonance by getting rid of the gadget. However, it would be very difficult to apply than to just adjust your beliefs.


There is another important factor affecting the magnitude of dissonance.  Dissonance is inversely proportional to the number of consonant cognitions that a person holds.

There are mainly three ways to reduce dissonance:

  1. Changing conditions: If there is dissonance between the two cognitions, it can be reduced by either changing one of them to be consistent with the other or adjusting both towards each other.
  2. Adding Cognitions: Dissonance can also be reduced by adding a new cognition. If there is dissonance between two cognitions, one can add a third consonant cognition to reduce it.
  3. Changing their importance: Changing the importance of cognitions like increasing one’s and reducing the other’s can also reduce the degree of dissonance that exists between the two.