Cognitive Dissonance

The stress or ickiness a person feels when they have 2 conflicting beliefs at the same time or they have a belief and a behavior that are in conflict at the same time. Leon Festinger stated that there are three ways to reduce dissonance so that we can return back to a place of cognitive homeostasis:

Here is an example of Kelly and her ‘boring’ boyfriend and how all three can be used:

Belief: I do not value boring men; I only like men with a good sense of humor.
Behavior:
Dating a boring man with no sense of humor.

So what can she do? She can use any of the three ways of reducing dissonance as mentioned above. Here are the outcomes, in the order they are above:

1. Alter the importance/value of the belief: “It doesn’t matter if he’s boring, to be honest.”; “He might be boring but good looks are more important”.

2. Emphasize a new belief that supports her new behavior: “If he spends time with me, he might gain a sense of humor”, “My friends will love him because he’s good looking – they’ll never notice that he’s a little boring”.

3. Change the behavior all together: “I’m no longer going to date him”; “I will date a funnier man”.

Here is another example of Roger who steals office supplies:

Belief: Stealing is illegal and immoral, and I’m an honest person.
Behavior:
Stealing office supplies.

1. Alter the importance/value of the belief: “Stealing isn’t really that bad”.

2. Emphasize a new belief that supports her new behavior: “Everyone else does it, I’m not the only one”; “I deserve a little more for my hard work”; “These particular supplies are never used anyway, so they’ll go to waste if I leave them here!”

3. Change the behavior all together: “I will not steal these supplies.”

So when are we prone to experience cognitive dissonance? Here are some criteria that increase the likelihood we will feel it: