Understanding The Theory Of Cognitive Dissonance

1617 words - 6 pages

The human psyche frequently experiences the phenomena of internal contradiction, followed by an internal struggle for some semblance of balance or consistency (Hall, 1998). Cognitive dissonance acts as motivation for people to behave in a manner that effectively reduces said dissonance and restores balance. Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance explores this occurrence and the subsequent actions that people take in order to create a balance between their ideals.
Cognitive dissonance looks at the way people combat contradictions within their minds by actively seeking consistency. For his theory, Festinger refers to cognition as thought/mental processes and dissonance as inconsistency. His famous example is that of an addicted smoker who knows that smoking is detrimental to his or her health and is thus in conflict with his or her self. The main hypothesis of Festinger’s theory is comprised of two parts; Festinger wrote about the first part of his theory that "The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance," and described the second "When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance" (Festinger, 1957). Festinger elaborates on the importance an individual places on reducing cognitive dissonance by discussing two essential factors: the value of the cognitions and the ratio of cognitions (Festinger, 1957). The former consists of the personal importance or value that the individual places on the opposing cognitions, resulting in either a minor or major dissonance. The latter consists of the proportion of the degree to which inconsistency exists between cognitions to the degree to which inconsistency is absent and consistency takes its place. In other words, the degree to which an individual is truly at war with themselves over opposing beliefs/behavior. Festinger recorded three kinds of relationships that form subsequent to experiencing cognitive dissonance: a consonant relationship, consisting of two beliefs/behaviors that have a positive correlation, a dissonant relationship, consisting of two beliefs/behaviors that have a negative correlation, and an irrelevant relationship, consisting of two beliefs/behaviors that have no correlation at all (Festinger 1957).
Festinger noted that in order to restore balance, people undergo the process of dissonance reduction. He depicted four manners of dissonance reduction. The first manner of dissonance reduction is changing one’s behavior, a method that forcibly and effectively puts two dissonant beliefs/behaviors in consonance. The second manner of dissonance reduction is justifying the behavior or belief by changing the conditions of the contradiction so that the cognitive dissonance is reduced, even if only momentarily. The third manner of dissonance reduction is justifying the behavior...

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