Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The "ideas" or "cognitions" in question may include attitudes and beliefs, the awareness of one's behavior, and facts. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Cognitive dissonance theory is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
Dissonance normally occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency among his or her cognitions. This happens when one idea implies the opposite of another. For example, a belief in animal rights could be interpreted as inconsistent with eating meat or wearing fur. Noticing the contradiction would lead to dissonance, which could be experienced as anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, embarrassment, stress, and other negative emotional states. When people's ideas are consistent with each other, they are in a state of harmony, or consonance. If cognitions are unrelated, they are categorized as irrelevant to each other and do not lead to dissonance.
A powerful cause of dissonance is an idea in conflict with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as "I am a good person" or "I made the right decision." The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one's choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would likely reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.
2 Theory and research
2.1 Ben Franklin Effect
2.2 When Prophecy Fails
2.3 Boring task experiment
2.4 Forbidden toy experiment
2.5 Postdecision dissonance
3 Challenges and qualifications
4 Modelling in neural networks
5 Cognitive dissonance in the brain
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
The classical version of this idea is expressed in the Aesop fable, The Fox and the Grapes, in which a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. However, unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating anyway (that they are not yet ripe or that they are too sour). In the story, the dissonance of the desire for something unattainable (the desire versus the unfulfillment) is reduced by sentience — by irrationally deciding that which is desired must be flawed (sour grapes).
The most famous case in the early study of cognitive dissonance was described by Leon Festinger and others in the book When Prophecy Fails. The authors infiltrated a group that was expecting the imminent end of the world on a certain date. When that prediction failed, the movement did not disintegrate, but grew instead, as members vied to prove their orthodoxy by recruiting converts (see further discussion below).
Smoking is often postulated as an example of cognitive dissonance because it is widely accepted that cigarettes can cause lung cancer, yet virtually everyone wants to live a long and healthy life. In terms of the theory, the desire to live a long life is dissonant with the activity of doing something that will most likely shorten one's life. The tension produced by these contradictory ideas can be reduced by quitting smoking, denying the evidence of lung cancer, or justifying one's smoking. For example, smokers could rationalize their behavior by concluding that only a few smokers become ill, that it only happens to very heavy smokers, or that if smoking does not kill them, something else will. While chemical addiction may operate in addition to cognitive dissonance for existing smokers, new smokers may exhibit a simpler case of the latter.
This case of dissonance could also be interpreted in terms of a threat to the self-concept. The thought, "I am increasing my risk of lung cancer" is dissonant with the self-related belief, "I am a smart, reasonable person who makes good decisions." Because it is often easier to make excuses than it is to change behavior, dissonance theory leads to the conclusion that humans are rationalizing and not always rational beings.
Theory and research
Most of the research on cognitive dissonance takes the form of "induced compliance without sufficient justification." In these studies, participants are asked to write an essay against their beliefs, or to do something unpleasant, without a sufficient justification or incentive. The vast majority of participants comply with these kinds of requests and subsequently experience dissonance. In another procedure, participants are offered a gift and asked to choose between two equally desirable items. Because the attractive characteristics of the rejected item are dissonant with the decision to accept the chosen item, participants tend to experience "postdecision dissonance."
Ben Franklin Effect
Benjamin Franklin won over a Political opponent by asking him a favor. An excerpt from one of his books:
I did not ... aim at gaining his favour by paying any servile respect to him but, after some time, took this other method. Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book I wrote a note to him expressing my desire of perusing that book and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately and I returned it in about a week with another note expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself has obliged."
After lending Franklin the book, the opponent had to resolve the dissonance of his attitude towards Franklin, whom he also has just done a favor. He justified doing the favor by telling himself that he actually liked Franklin, and, as a result, he treated him with respect instead of rudeness from then on. This well-known technique has been used by many people to win over their enemies.
When Prophecy Fails
An early version of cognitive dissonance theory appeared in Leon Festinger's 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails. This book gave an inside account of belief persistence in members of a UFO doomsday cult, and documented the increased proselytization they exhibited after the leader's "end of the world" prophecy failed to come true. The prediction of the Earth's destruction, supposedly sent by aliens to the leader of the group, became a disconfirmed expectancy that caused dissonance between the cognitions, "the world is going to end" and "the world did not end." Although some members abandoned the group when the prophecy failed, most of the members lessened their dissonance by accepting a new belief, that the planet was spared because of the faith of the group.
Boring task experiment
In Festinger and Carlsmith's classic 1959 experiment, students were asked to spend an hour on boring and tedious tasks (e.g. turning pegs a quarter turn, over and over again). The tasks were designed to generate a strong, negative attitude. Once the subjects had done this, the experimenters asked some of them to do a simple favour. They were asked to talk to another subject (actually an actor) and persuade them that the tasks were interesting and engaging. Some participants were paid $20 (inflation adjusted to 2009, this equates to $148.40) for this favor, another group was paid $1 (or $7.42 in '2009 dollars'), and a control group was not asked to perform the favour.
When asked to rate the boring tasks at the conclusion of the study (not in the presence of the other "subject"), those in the $1 group rated them more positively than those in the $20 and control groups. This was explained by Festinger and Carlsmith as evidence for cognitive dissonance. The researchers theorized that people experienced dissonance between the conflicting cognitions, "I told someone that the task was interesting", and "I actually found it boring." When paid only $1, students were forced to internalize the attitude they were induced to express, because they had no other justification. Those in the $20 condition, however, had an obvious external justification for their behaviour, and thus experienced less dissonance.
In subsequent experiments, an alternative method of "inducing dissonance" has become common. In this research, experimenters use counter-attitudinal essay-writing, in which people are paid varying amounts of money (e.g. one or ten dollars) for writing essays expressing opinions contrary to their own. People paid only a small amount of money have less justification for their inconsistency and tend to experience more dissonance.
Forbidden toy experiment
An experiment by Aronson and Carlsmith in 1963 examined self-justification in children. In this experiment, children were left in a room with a variety of toys, including a highly desirable toy steam-shovel (or other toy). Upon leaving the room, the experimenter told half the children that there would be a severe punishment if they played with that particular toy and told the other half that there would be a mild punishment. All of the children in the study refrained from playing with the toy. Later, when the children were told that they could freely play with whatever toy they wanted, the ones in the mild punishment condition were less likely to play with the toy, even though the threat had been removed.
This is another example of insufficient justification. The children who were only mildly threatened had to justify to themselves why they did not play with the toy. The degree of punishment by itself was not strong enough, so the children had to convince themselves that the toy was not worth playing with in order to resolve their dissonance.
In a different type of experiment conducted by Jack Brehm, 225 female students rated a series of common appliances and were then allowed to choose one of two appliances to take home as a gift. A second round of ratings showed that the participants increased their ratings of the item they chose, and lowered their ratings of the rejected item. This can be explained in terms of cognitive dissonance. When making a difficult decision, there are always aspects of the rejected choice that one finds appealing and these features are dissonant with choosing something else. In other words, the cognition, "I chose X" is dissonant with the cognition, "There are some things I like about Y." More recent research has found similar results in four-year-old children and capuchin monkeys.
Challenges and qualifications
Daryl Bem was an early critic of cognitive dissonance theory. He proposed self-perception theory as a more parsimonious alternative explanation of the experimental results. According to Bem, people do not think much about their attitudes, let alone whether they are in conflict. Bem interpreted people in the Festinger and Carlsmith study as inferring their attitudes from their behavior. Thus, when asked "Did you find the task interesting?" they decided that they must have found it interesting because that is what they told someone. Bem suggested that people paid $20 had a salient, external incentive for their behavior and were likely to perceive the money as their reason for saying the task was interesting, rather than concluding that they actually found it interesting.
In many experimental situations, Bem's theory and Festinger's theory make identical predictions, but only dissonance theory predicts the presence of unpleasant tension or arousal. Lab experiments have verified the presence of arousal in dissonance situations. This provides support for cognitive dissonance theory and makes it unlikely that self-perception by itself can account for all the laboratory findings.
In 1969, Elliot Aronson reformulated the basic theory by linking it to the self-concept. According to this new interpretation, cognitive dissonance does not arise because people experience dissonance between conflicting cognitions. Instead, it occurs when people see their actions as conflicting with their normally positive view of themselves. Thus, in the original Festinger and Carlsmith study, Aronson stated that the dissonance was between the cognition, "I am an honest person" and the cognition, "I lied to someone about finding the task interesting." Other psychologists have argued that maintaining cognitive consistency is a way to protect public self-image, rather than private self-concept.
During the 1980s, Cooper and Fazio argued that dissonance was caused by aversive consequences, rather than inconsistency. According to this interpretation, the fact that lying is wrong and hurtful, not the inconsistency between cognitions, is what makes people feel bad. Subsequent research, however, found that people experience dissonance even when they feel they have not done anything wrong.
Modelling in neural networks
Neural network models of cognition have provided the necessary framework to integrate the empirical research done on cognitive dissonance and attitudes into one model of explanation of attitude formation and change.
Various neural network models have been developed to predict how cognitive dissonance will influence an individual's attitude and behaviour. These include:
Parallel Constraint Satisfaction Processes
The Meta-Cognitive Model (MCM) of attitudes
Adaptive connectionist model of cognitive dissonance
Attitudes as constraint satisfaction model 
 Cognitive dissonance in the brain
Using fMRI, Van Veen and colleagues investigated the neural basis of cognitive dissonance in a modified version of the classic Festinger and Carlsmith study. While in the scanner, participants "argued" that the uncomfortable MRI environment was nevertheless a pleasant experience. The researchers replicated the basic Festinger findings; participants in an experimental group enjoyed the scanner more than participants in a control group who simply were paid to make their argument. Importantly, responding counterattitudinally activated the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insular cortex; furthermore, the degree to which these regions were activated predicted individual participants' degree of attitude change. Van Veen and colleagues argue that these findings support the original dissonance theory by Festinger, and support the "conflict theory" of anterior cingulate functioning.
Buyer's remorse is a form of postdecision dissonance.
Choice-supportive bias is a memory bias that makes past choices seem better than they actually were.
Cultural dissonance is dissonance on a larger scale.
Double bind is a communicative situation where a person receives different or contradictory messages.
Doublethink is the act of holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and fervently believing both.
Effort justification is the tendency to attribute a greater (than objective) value to an outcome which demands a great effort in order to resolve a dissonance.
The Fox and the Grapes offers a fictional example of cognitive dissonance.
The Great Disappointment of 1844 is an example of cognitive dissonance in a religious context.
Psychological immune system
Self-perception theory is a competing theory of attitude change.
True-believer syndrome demonstrates carrying a post-cognitive-dissonance belief regardless of new information.
1.^ Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
2.^ Festinger, L. (1956). When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of A Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World, by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. Harper-Torchbooks, Jan. 1956. ISBN 0061311324
3.^ Aronson, E., Akert, R. D., & Wilson, T. D. (2006). Social psychology (6th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
4.^ Baron, R. A., & Byrne, D. (2004). Social Psychology (10th Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
5.^ a b Aronson, E. (1969). The theory of cognitive dissonance: A current perspective. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.). Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 4, pp. 1-34. New York: Academic Press.
6.^ Festinger, L., Riecken, H. W., & Schachter, S. (1956). When prophecy fails. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
7.^ Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58(2), 203-210.
8.^ a b Aronson, E., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1963). Effect of the severity of threat on the devaluation of forbidden behavior. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66(6), 584–588.
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11.^ Bem, D. J. (1965). An experimental analysis of self-persuasion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1(3), 199-218.
12.^ Bem, D. J. (1967). Self-perception: An alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychological Review, 74(3), 183-200.
13.^ Zanna, M., & Cooper, J. (1974). Dissonance and the pill: An attribution approach to studying the arousal properties of dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29(5), 703-709.
14.^ Kiesler, C. A., & Pallak, M. S. (1976). Arousal properties of dissonance manipulations. Psychological Bulletin, 83(6), 1014-1025.
15.^ Tedeschi, J. T., Schlenker, B. R., & Bonoma, T. V. (1971). Cognitive dissonance: Private ratiocination or public spectacle? American Psychologist, 26(
16.^ Cooper, J., & Fazio, R. H. (1984). A new look at dissonance theory. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 17, pp. 229-266). New York: Academic Press.
17.^ Harmon-Jones, E., Brehm, J. W., Greenberg, J., Simon, L., & Nelson, D. E. (1996). Evidence that the production of aversive consequences is not necessary to create cognitive dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 5-16.
18.^ a b Read, S. J., Vanman, E. J., & Miller L. C. (1997). Connectionism, parallel constraint satisfaction processes, and Gestalt principles: (Re)Introducing cognitive dynamics to social psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1(1), 26-53.
19.^ Petty, R. E., Briñol, P., & DeMarree, K. G. (2007). The Meta-Cognitive Model (MCM) of attitudes: Implications for attitude measurement, change, and strength. Social Cognition, 25(5), 657-686.
20.^ Van Overwalle, F., & Jordens, K. (2002). An adaptive connectionist model of cognitive dissonance. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6(3), 204-231.
21.^ Monroe, B. M., & Read, S. J. (2008). A general connectionist model of attitude structure and change: The ACS (Attitudes as Constraint Satisfaction) Model, Psychological Review, 115(3), 733-759.
22.^ Van Veen, V., Krug, M. K., Schooler, J. W., & Carter, C. S. (2009). Neural activity predicts attitude change in cognitive dissonance. Nature Neuroscience, 12(11), 1469-1474.
 Further reading
Cooper, J. (2007). Cognitive dissonance: 50 years of a classic theory. London: Sage publications.
Harmon-Jones, E., & J. Mills (1999). Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Tavris, Carol; Eliot Aronson (2007). Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts. Orlando, FL: Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-101098-1.
 External links
Cognitive dissonance entry in The Skeptic's Dictionary
Festinger and Carlsmith's original paperDOUBLETHINK