Every individual has a unique composite of values and is readily presented with contrasting choices in their daily lives. As individuals act on these choices, they are sometimes presented with a conflict of interest between the beliefs they hold and the actions they commit.
Such internal conflict is defined by Leon Festinger as cognitive dissonance: “a psychological state in which an individual’s cognitions—beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors—are at odds” (Bloom, Santos, & Egan, 2007, p. 978). Sendhil Mullainathan and Ebonya Washington (2009) describe cognitive dissonance as “the internal need for consistency” (p. 86). Mullainathan and Washington exemplify cognitive dissonance as occurring when “[an] individual…unconsciously [changes] his beliefs to alleviate the discomfort of having inconsistent attitudes and actions (p. 87).
Cognitive dissonance occurs because people are generally uncomfortable with discrepancies being present in their lives. To account for these differences and to reacquire mental harmony, individuals employ “cognitive dissonance reduction mechanisms” to devalue their original set of beliefs, stop or alter their behavior, or modify their thinking to match up with their behaviors (Bloom et al., 2007, p. 978).
Bloom et al. (2007) suggest that cognitive dissonance reduction mechanisms are a result of “developmentally constrained systems” (p. 982). Limited real-time mental functioning capability of the brain may imply that cognitive dissonance reduction mechanisms are processes by which the central executive works to streamline mental work more consistently and efficiently. This information processing system fosters an environment in which the brain can store and maintain a larger amount of data over a more extensive period of time. Simply put, cognitive dissonance reduction mechanisms are employed to reduce spent mental effort.
Cognitive Dissonance Research
Mullainathan and Washington’s (2009) text “Sticking with your vote: Cognitive dissonance and political attitudes” describes the relationship between mental discrepancy and voter motivation coupled with future favorability of candidates in political elections. The authors propose that the theory of cognitive dissonance predicts that voters will have a more positive opinion of a candidate in the future after initially voting for that candidate. The cognitive dissonance theory implies that an individual is attuned to harmonizing their behaviors with their beliefs. Hence, Mullainathan and Washington hypothesize that an individual voter who casts their ballot for a particular candidate in an election is more likely to maintain a positive perspective of that candidate, regardless of their opinion of the modern policies of said candidate, as justification for their past action of public support via vote.
Cognitive dissonance is exemplified in this study by defining the opinions of two separate age groups respective to voter eligibility. Mullainathan and Washington’s research...