Cognitive Dissonance: Is It Really There?

Many times in life our ideas, thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs contradict each other. Have you ever felt uneasy after telling a lie? Was there a time when your actions conflicted with your beliefs? Or have you ever experienced mental conflicts – a time when your beliefs or assumptions contradict by a different kind of information? If yes, then it means you have most likely faced Cognitive dissonance.

Everyone wants consistency in their beliefs and attitude. There are several measures people take to relieve tension or unease that the conflicts can create. Here are some of the things that people avoid:

  • People avoid new information
  • Reject it
  • Try to explain it
  • Sometimes people persuade that no conflict exists in real
  • Or they use other defensive means to preserve believes.

What is cognitive dissonance?

In 1954 an American psychologist Leon Festinger developed the concept of Cognitive dissonance.  He presented his theory based on how people try to reach internal consistency. According to Leon festinger:

”Belief in two contradictory things that result in an unpleasant emotion, results in cognitive dissonance. People try to resolve the conflicting beliefs to keep their thoughts again linear and rational. People strive to avoid disharmony created by conflicting beliefs. Cognitive dissonance leads to irrational decision-making.’’

No one realizes but conflicting beliefs often held. And when these conflicts collide with different situations of life, cognitive dissonance occurs. This cognitive dissonance creates an uneasy, disturbing kind of feeling. This dissonance motivates a person to work and resolve conflicting beliefs. Most of the people do this to keep their thoughts and beliefs linear once again.

Examples of cognitive dissonance:

Cognition can be also termed as a belief. If an individual is fond of ice-cream, then you can consider it a belief. Similarly, if the same individual says that he/she exercises regularly, it is another cognition. But when these two beliefs go against each other, cognitive dissonance appears.

Here are a few other examples of cognitive dissonance:


Having a belief that manipulation is bad. But, that individual forced to manipulate someone.

Here, first cognition is your belief and second cognition is the action you perform. Both work oppositely and generate a feeling of dissonance.


Liking a personality, but knowing about his/her drug addiction habit.

In this example, to like a person is your first cognition, but the second cognition is knowing the fact of his/her bad side. Two different thoughts for a person provoke dissonance.


”Playing video games and watching television in excess can affect your child’s physical and mental health”. It is a cognition most of the parents have. ”But allowing them to do this only to avoid bad company for your kids or to keeping them busy”, is also a cognition. But having both the beliefs at a time can cause dissonance.

There are many other common examples from our daily life to understand cognitive dissonance.

  • Smoking but believing in living a healthy life
  • Like eating but also having a desire to remain fit and smart
  • Believing in self-achievements but taking dowry, considering it a part of our culture
  • Wishing to see your child as a wonderful international cricket player but stopping him from cricket practice

Cognitive Dissonance Theory:

According to Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance: Humans have an inner drive that keeps their thoughts and behaviors in harmony. This is called ‘’cognitive consistency’’. In this inconsistent tug of war between behavior and thoughts, some sort of change is a must to eliminate the dissonance.

One of the three ways can reduce dissonance:

  • Outweigh the dissonance beliefs by acquiring new information.
  • Reduce the importance of beliefs and attitudes (cognition)
  • Keep the relation constant between two elements. It can be done by changing one or more beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, etc.

Cognitive dissonance theory does not state that these ways will work. But modes of dissonance reduction are only applicable to those who experience dissonance but are willing to reduce it.

Three Parts of CDT:

This theory of cognitive dissonance can be divided into three parts:

Forced compliance behavior:

When an individual takes an action that is inconsistent with his/her belief, forced compliance occurs. It is simply to act forcefully on the task that is inconsistent with their actual beliefs. Cognition says, ‘I don’t want to do this”. But action is, ”I did it”. It is not possible to change the behavior because it already existed. So the dissonance will work on re-evaluating the attitude.

This changing of action requires the use of following ways:

  • Before changing an action identify your values. Sometimes your society and people push to do something that goes against your beliefs. It creates dissonance. But if you understand your values well, you can better answer the reasons behind your actions.
  • The first step you can take to correct an issue is to admit your failings. Acknowledge your mistakes and try to move forward with a clean slate by forgiving yourself.
  • For avoiding cognitive dissonance the best thing you can do is just act as what you believe in. This is the easiest way but it could be hard in the case when your beliefs are lofty.
  • It is also possible to change your beliefs when you examine the situations you go through. When you examine your beliefs and feel the positive side of social pressures and personal desires, you may decide to change your beliefs.

Making decisions:

Decision making arouses dissonance. But our life cannot move forward without making decisions. Every decision has its good and bad points. That is why it is really important to reduce dissonance. The most common technique used for it is ”Spreading apart the alternatives”.

  • Mostly people struggle with cognitive dissonance because they never accept being wrong. It is good to accept your mistakes sometime. It’s completely normal to change your mind, even it is about a strongly held belief of yours.
  • When dissonance starts it is the time to identify the conflicts inside you. These will surly help you to identify beliefs that are causing distress.
  • It is better to learn about both sides of the conflict. This helps you a lot to choose between your beliefs and behavior. It boosts your confidence to make a certain change.
  • If you face too much difficulty to change a behavior or thought it’s essential to understand; why a particular belief or behavior you can’t change is important to you?


It is a fact that spending years of effort into accomplishing something that turns into a rubbish is hard to accept. The appearance of dissonance is often natural. At this particular point, you need effort. These are efforts to make yourself believe that you didn’t spend years to get a wrong thing. But you enjoyed doing something for years whether it is right or wrong. It is a kind of persuasion to make you realize that change is better in every way. Leaving your old beliefs and adopting new ones is a highly demanding sort of effort.

The efforts you can use to resolve cognitive dissonance may be:

  1. Apply cognitive reasoning to your decision by making a list of the pros and cons of your decisions.
  2. Another good idea is to enhance the cons of the option you didn’t choose.
  3. Better get command on explaining why you choose an option. Explaining others about your decisions solidify your thoughts in yourself.
  4. After taking a decision, stop questioning yourself about it. This behavior can reawaken feelings of cognitive dissonance.

Issues with cognitive dissonance theory:

Although the cognitive dissonance theory has broad applications some issues challenge its validity.

According to a scientific point of view, we cannot observe cognitive dissonance physically. Another issue is the individual differences in behaviors. Many people around us cannot experience dissonance. They get to cope with dissonance. Similarly, one more problem with this theory is the ecological validity of this theory. Majority of experiments used to prove the theory are artificial tasks.

Does Cognitive Dissonance Exist?

It’s not a difficult question to answer. Cognitive dissonance is a practical reality of life. We experience cognitive dissonance anytime when our thoughts and actions don’t match up with our actions.

From the smallest, common, and simplest examples to the deeply penetrated roots of humanity inside us, cognitive dissonance is impacting our ways of interacting with each other and how we see ourselves and others.

Cognitive dissonance helps us to justify positive changes in society. These are the changes that we wouldn’t understand otherwise.


An obvious implementation of cognitive dissonance is that if you want to change the attitude or behavior of a person to create a positive change, try to create dissonance. This dissonance must be a concern with the particular attitude which you want to change a person.

Cognitive dissonance is a productive and progressive kind of situation that can help in building some better values in society. Moreover, it encourages us in leaving the taboos and deprecated traditions.

What is your opinion about cognitive dissonance? How do you see it? Is it a helpful process or you feel it more depressing than progressive?

Log Kya Kahein Gay: Log Kya Kahein Gay provides a platform to discuss ideas and opinions about the culture and social ethics of our society.
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