Cognitive Dissonance

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person’s performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.

In A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957), Leon Festinger proposed that human beings strive for internal psychological consistency in order to mentally function in the real world. A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance. This is done either by changing parts of the cognition to justify the stressful behavior, by adding new parts to the cognition that causes the psychological dissonance, and/or by actively avoiding social situations and contradictory information that are likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance.

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Relations among cognitions

To function in the reality of a modern society, human beings continually adjust the correspondence of their mental attitudes and personal actions; such continual adjustments, between cognition and action, result in one of three relationships with reality:

  1. Consonant relationship: Two cognitions or actions consistent with each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out to dinner, and ordering water rather than wine)
  2. Irrelevant relationship: Two cognitions or actions unrelated to each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out, and wearing a shirt)
  3. Dissonant relationship: Two cognitions or actions inconsistent with each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out, then drinking more wine)


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