Created by WS-71, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance—Essay 1

Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory ideas or beliefs regarding one notion at the same time. One of the best examples are smoking people who do not give up smoking but at the same time know that it might cause lung cancer. A more classical approach to cognitive dissonance is defined in Aesop`s fable: The Fox and the Grapes. The story is about a fox that saw some high-hanging grapes and desired to eat them. After unsuccessful attempts to reach them, he decided that the grapes are not worth eating, by making different defending justifications like: they are sour or probably nor ripe. If one desires something, and it is unachievable, he or she will always reduce the dissonance by criticizing it. That is the idea that follows this example.

Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist, pointed out that we have an inner drive which influences our views and beliefs about certain things. It happens due to personal factors which cause changes in attitudes of a person. These personal factors might include our family views, friends, fashion and all other world which surround us.

Cognitive dissonance consists of several elements. The most important of them might be religion beliefs, politics influence, family views, education system and personal behaviour. Almost all of the research established on cognitive dissonance includes four major paradigms that will be explained below.


First one is called the belief disconfirmation paradigm. This type of dissonance is experienced when people meet information that is opposed to their beliefs. In case that the dissonance is not reduced people find consonance by searching support from others who share the same belief as they do, and attempt to convince others.  

Second one is Induce-compliance paradigm. This type of dissonance is felt when we engage in actions or behave in a way that is confronted with our attitudes or beliefs. If one does not like a particular person but agrees to help or to do a favour for that person, a possible dissonance exists. If you are doing someone a favour by helping them out with a project when you really do not want to, you have a possibility to change the attitude towards that person. In case there is a firm excuse for your behaviour like you helped that person, because the person is your boss, it is not hard to rationalize your behaviour. If there is no good reason for doing for doing that favour, you may experience dissonance.

The third one is a free-choice paradigm. This happens when we are given a decision in which we have to choose. When we have to make a decision between two choices, there is always aspect of the excluded choice which we found attractive and these benefits are dissonant with choosing something else.  

The last one presents effort justification paradigm. This dissonance arises whenever an individual is involved in an activity which he or she does not like, in order to achieve a goal. Leon Festinger had an opinion that cognitive dissonance can be resolved by several methods.

The first, there is a possibility for an individual to change some of his attitudes. If one of cognitive dissonant element is behaviour, the individual can change it or control it. Also, a bad habit might be changed or stopped by the individual. Let’s consider a previous example. Smoking is a bad habit, so it can be stopped. As the result cognitive dissonant would be resolved. However, the individual faces difficulties to stop a bad habit or behaviour as he is addicted to it. Without medical treatment there might be difficulties to do it.

The other method to reduce dissonance is to find new information that outweighs the dissonant beliefs. For example, if smoker thinks every time when he smokes that smoking increase risk of lung disease, he might reduce number of cigarettes. As the result dissonance will be decreased.  However, there is a lot of information about consequences of smoking or consequences of drinking Coca Cola but people do not give up to do it. The internet is full of news that Coca Cola cause heart disease and some of people already dead because of it but it do not stop others. The reason might be an addiction to product.

The third method which might reduce a dissonance is the way of thinking that is better enjoy life today than try to save it for tomorrow. In other words reduce the importance of the cognitions. This way might be the best and the easiest way for people with bad habits. It does not take any challenge and provide a comfort way of living in a short run. In a long run it can cause more people with health problems and early death rate.

The third method is not simply dangerous for health of the society, it is also dangerous for all aspects of life. If student would take approach just simply to enjoy day and give up with studying, there would be less educated people and increase unemployment rate. Moreover, researchers pointed out that solving cognitive dissonance of students might increase their motivation to study. For finding out whether this statement is true or not, they used a method called effort justification paradigm, which involves students who are given no external reward for solving different tasks. For example, if preschoolers who were completing puzzles did not receive the expected external reward, their motivation to continue doing the same process declined. At the same time, those children that completed puzzles without a promise of external reward had an inner motivation that did not decrease over time. People tend to justify their sufferings and hard work in order to relieve the discomfort. This justification is more appropriate to students, who constantly convince themselves that what they study today will serve them as a great investment into a bright and prosperous future.

Another experiment that showed that cognitive dissonance has an influence on children’s behaviour regards therapy. Some psychologists found out that there are several factors that seem to increase the effectiveness of a therapy. When children chose on their own in what therapy to involve in, together with the realization of how much money and effort was needed to be invested in that type of therapy, increased the client’s perception of the effectiveness of the chosen therapy. This phenomenon was demonstrated on overweight children that felt like the chosen therapy lead to a much more loss of weight because that therapy was chosen by each of them exclusively.

Nevertheless, it is also important to mention that cognitive dissonance is very strong when we do something that does not match with our beliefs about ourselves, making us feel ashamed or guilty of what we have done. Generally, this phenomenon is most powerful when it regards our own personality. When people feel foolish, the conflict that arises in their heads makes them feel uncomfortable with their own person. Consequently, these people try to solve this conflict by doing what is necessary to resolve those problems that caused cognitive dissonance. It is also proved that people experience these types of conflicts when somebody else did something that, in their opinion about those people, do not characterise their personality, leaving this person with a conflict inside his/her head.

The last type of cognitive dissonance discussed in this text regards narcissistic abuse. People that left a toxic relationship in which their partner had narcissistic qualities often experienced heartache because of different actions made by their partners. A simplistic example of this kind of cognitive dissonance is when a person with narcissistic qualities tells that the couple is going to get married, but the abuser has ulterior motives not to do what it was promised. Instead, the second person is left to plan the wedding, dream about their lives as a family, and then the abuser denies everything that he told by saying that it was crazy to believe like marriage could be possible at that time. By doing that, the abused person feels blamed and left dizzy in confusion. Finally, this person feels insecure and experiences a conflict brought about by a strong confusion.

The phenomenon of cognitive dissonance has met a wide response from the part of researches. Consequently, various types of cognitive dissonance as described in the abovementioned examples arose. The nature of human being constantly pushes us towards matching of our beliefs and idea with reality. Nevertheless, the accomplishment of this initiative is not always possible, when no compromise between several contradictory ideas can be found considerable comfort can be felt by a person, leading to further stress and emotional perturbations. However, this phenomenon is losing its intensive character of influencing people of 21 century, the time of consumerism, junk ideas and junk information, the time of massive flow of information provided by all sorts of media. An average representative of 21 century has to process so much information that there is no enough time to be amused, astonished or surprised. Therefore, cognitive dissonance that we face in daily life does not affect our conscience as much as it would affect a 16-century European peasant seeing an African servant in his master’s residence. Psychologists advise not to take personally this or that issue, life is full of stress, we should just accept the reality as it is, nobody requires to analyze it and to have own ideas or moral principles. Nevertheless, cognitive dissonance is and will always be a part of everyday life of a person. It is extremely important to be able to accept ideas of other people and to define which of the very controversial views to take. People who live in the limited space of strong non-flexible beliefs risk facing the harsh reality which could totally ruin their world leading to further psychological and emotional instabilities.


References: Cognitive Dissonance Theory. (2015). [Online] Available at: [Accessed January 24 Jan. 2015]. Therapy Blog. Unreality Check: Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse. (2014). [Online] Available at: [Accessed January 24 Jan. 2015].

McLeod, S. (2015). Cognitive Dissonance Theory | Simply Psychology. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2015]. Cognitive Dissonance. (2015). [Online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jan. 2015].

Axsom, D. (2007). Effort justification. In R. Baumeister, & K. Vohs (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social psychology. (pp. 277-279). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Available at: [Accessed 25 Jan 2015].