In modern psychology, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel "disequilibrium": frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc. The phrase was coined by Leon Festinger in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, which chronicled the followers of a UFO cult as reality clashed with their fervent belief in an impending apocalypse. Festinger subsequently (1957) published a book called A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance in which he outlines the theory. Cognitive dissonance is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements. It is the distressing mental state that people feel when they "find themselves doing things that don't fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold." A key assumption is that people want their expectations to meet reality, creating a sense of equilibrium. Likewise, another assumption is that a person will avoid situations or information sources that give rise to feelings of uneasiness, or dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance theory explains human behavior by positing that people have a bias to seek consonance between their expectations and reality. According to Festinger, people engage in a process he termed "dissonance reduction", which can be achieved in one of three ways: lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors. This bias sheds light on otherwise puzzling, irrational, and even destructive behavior.
Theory and research 
Most of the research on cognitive dissonance takes the form of one of four major paradigms. Important research generated by the theory has been concerned with the consequences of exposure to information inconsistent with a prior belief, what happens after individuals act in ways that are inconsistent with their prior attitudes, what happens after individuals make decisions, and the effects of effort expenditure.
Belief disconfirmation paradigm 
Dissonance is aroused when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one's belief, the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through misperception, rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others.
An early version of cognitive dissonance theory appeared in Leon Festinger's 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails. This book gives an account of the deepening of cult members' faith following the failure of a cult's prophecy that a UFO landing was imminent. The believers met at a pre-determined place and time, believing they alone would survive the Earth's destruction. The appointed time came and passed without incident. They faced acute cognitive dissonance: had they been the victim of a hoax? Had they donated their worldly possessions in vain? Most members chose to believe something less dissonant to resolve reality not meeting their expectations: they believed that the aliens had given earth a second chance, and the group was now empowered to spread the word that earth-spoiling must stop. The group dramatically increased their proselytism despite the failed prophecy.
Induced-compliance paradigm 
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 the impostor that the tasks were interesting and engaging. Some participants were paid $20 (equivalent to $158 in present day terms) for this favour, another group was paid $1 (equivalent to $8 in present day terms), 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. $1 or $10) for writing essays expressing opinions contrary to their own. People paid only a small amount of money have less external justification for their inconsistency and must produce internal justification in order to reduce the high degree of dissonance that they are experiencing.
A variant of the induced-compliance paradigm is the forbidden toy paradigm. 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. 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.
A 2012 study using a version of the forbidden toy paradigm showed that playing music reduces the development of cognitive dissonance. The control group of four-year-old children were told to avoid playing with a particular toy with no music playing in the background. After playing alone, the children later devalued the forbidden toy in their ranking, which is similar findings to earlier studies. However, in the variable group, classical music was played in the background while the children played alone. In that group, the children did not later devalue the toy. The researchers concluded that music may inhibit cognitions that result in dissonance reduction. Music is not the only example of an outside force lessening post-decisional dissonance; a 2010 study showed that hand-washing had a similar effect.
Free-choice paradigm 
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.
In addition to internal deliberations, the structuring of decisions among other individuals may play a role in how an individual acts. Researchers in a 2010 study examined social preferences and norms as related to wage giving in a linear manner among three individuals. The first participant’s actions influenced the second’s own wage giving. The researchers argue that inequity aversion is the paramount concern of the participants.
Effort justification paradigm 
Dissonance is aroused whenever individuals voluntarily engage in an unpleasant activity to achieve some desired goal. Dissonance can be reduced by exaggerating the desirability of the goal. Aronson & Mills had individuals undergo a severe or mild "initiation" in order to become a member of a group. In the severe-initiation condition, the individuals engaged in an embarrassing activity. The group they joined turned out to be very dull and boring. The individuals in the severe-initiation condition evaluated the group as more interesting than the individuals in the mild-initiation condition.
All of the above paradigms continue to be used in fruitful research.
Washing one's hands has been shown to eliminate post-decisional dissonance, presumably because the dissonance is often caused by moral disgust (with oneself), which is related to disgust from unsanitary conditions.
"The Fox and the Grapes" 
A classic illustration of cognitive dissonance is expressed in the fable "The Fox and the Grapes" by Aesop (ca. 620–564 BCE). In the story, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he decides that the grapes are probably not worth eating, with the justification the grapes probably are not ripe or that they are sour (hence the common phrase "sour grapes"). This example follows a pattern: one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one's dissonance by criticizing it. Jon Elster calls this pattern "adaptive preference formation".
Cognitive dissonance has also been demonstrated to occur when people seek to:
- Explain inexplicable feelings: When a disaster occurs in a community, irrationally fearful rumors spread in nearby communities not involved in the disaster because of the need of those who are not threatened to justify their anxieties 
- Minimize regret of irrevocable choices: Bettors at a racetrack are more confident in their chosen horse just after placing the bet because they cannot change it (the bettors felt "post-decision dissonance").
- Justify behavior that opposed their views: Students judge cheating less harshly after being induced to cheat on a test.
- Align one's perceptions of a person with one's behaviour toward that person: the Ben Franklin effect refers to that statesman's observation that the act of performing a favour for a rival leads to increased positive feelings toward that individual.
- Reaffirm already held beliefs: Congeniality bias (also referred to as Confirmation Bias) refers to how people read or access information that affirms their already established opinions, rather than referencing material that contradicts them. For example, a person who is politically liberal might only read newspapers and watch news commentary that is from liberal news sources. This bias appears to be particularly apparent when faced with deeply held beliefs, i.e., when a person has 'high commitment' to his or her attitudes.
There are other ways that cognitive dissonance is involved in shaping our views about people, as well as our own identities (as discussed more in the sections below). For instance, self-evaluation maintenance theory suggests that people feel dissonance when their cherished skills or traits are outmatched by close social ties (e.g. Jill the painter feels dissonance because she is friends with a master painter; Jill can either care less about painting or resolve her sense of inferiority in another way).
Balance theory suggests people have a general tendency to seek consonance between their views, and the views or characteristics of others (e.g., a religious believer may feel dissonance because their partner does not have the same beliefs as he or she does, thus motivating the believer to justify or rationalize this incongruence). People may self handicap so that any failures during an important task are easier to justify (e.g., the student who drinks the night before an important exam in response to his fear of performing poorly).
Applications of research 
In addition to explaining certain counter-intuitive human behaviour, the theory of cognitive dissonance has practical applications in several fields.
Creating and resolving cognitive dissonance can have a powerful impact on students’ motivation for learning. For example, researchers have used the effort justification paradigm to increase students’ enthusiasm for educational activities by offering no external reward for students’ efforts: preschoolers who completed puzzles with the promise of a reward were less interested in the puzzles later, as compared to preschoolers who were offered no reward in the first place. The researchers concluded that students who can attribute their work to an external reward stop working in the absence of that reward, while those who are forced to attribute their work to intrinsic motivation came to find the task genuinely enjoyable.
Psychologists have incorporated cognitive dissonance into models of basic processes of learning, notably constructivist models. Several educational interventions have been designed to foster dissonance in students by increasing their awareness of conflicts between prior beliefs and new information (e.g., by requiring students to defend prior beliefs) and then providing or guiding students to new, correct explanations that will resolve the conflicts.
For example, researchers have developed educational software that incorporates these principles in order to facilitate student questioning of complex subject matter. Meta-analytic methods suggest that interventions that provoke cognitive dissonance to achieve directed conceptual change have been demonstrated across numerous studies to significantly increase learning in science and reading.
The general effectiveness of psychotherapy and psychological intervention has been explained in part through cognitive dissonance theory. Some social psychologists have argued that the act of freely choosing a specific therapy, together with the effort and money invested by the client in order to continue to engage in the chosen therapy, positively influences the effectiveness of therapy. This phenomenon was demonstrated in a study with overweight children, in which causing the children to believe that they freely chose the type of therapy they received resulted in greater weight loss.
In another example, individuals with ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) who invested significant effort to engage in activities without therapeutic value for their condition, but which had been framed as legitimate and relevant therapy, showed significant improvement in phobic symptoms. In these cases and perhaps in many similar situations, patients came to feel better in order to justify their efforts and to ratify their choices. Beyond these observed short-term effects, effort expenditure in therapy also predicts long-term therapeutic change.
It has also been demonstrated that cognitive dissonance can be used to promote desirable behaviour such as increased condom use. Other studies suggest that cognitive dissonance can also be used to encourage individuals to engage in prosocial behaviour under various contexts such as campaigning against littering, reducing prejudice to racial minorities, and compliance with anti-speeding campaigns. The theory can also be used to explain reasons for donating to charity.
Research and understanding of cognitive dissonance in consumers reveals potential for developing marketing practices. Existing literature suggests that three main conditions exist for arousal of dissonance in purchases: the decision involved in the purchase must be important, such as, involvement of a lot of money or psychological cost and be personally relevant to the consumer; the consumer has a freedom in selecting among the alternatives, finally; the decision involvement must be irreversible.
A study performed by Lindsay Mallikin shows that when consumers experience an unexpected price encounter they adopt three methods to reduce dissonance. Consumers may employ the strategy of constant information, they may have a change in attitude, or they may engage in trivialization. Consumers employ the strategy of constant information by engaging in bias and search for information that will support their prior beliefs. Consumers might search for information about other retailers and substitute products consistent with their states.
Alternatively, consumers may show change in attitude such as re-evaluate price in relation to external reference prices or attribute high or low prices with quality. Lastly, trivialization may occur and the importance of the elements of the dissonant relationship is reduced and consumer tend to trivialize importance of money, and thus, of shopping around, saving, and receiving a better deal.
Cognitive dissonance is also useful to explain and manage post-purchase concerns. If a consumer feels that an alternate purchase would have been better it is likely he will not buy the product again. To counter this marketers have to convince the buyer constantly that the product satisfies his or her need and thereby help to reduce his cognitive dissonance and ensure repurchase of the same brand in the future.
At times cognitive resonance is induced rather than resolved to market products. The Hallmark Cards tag line “When you care enough to send the very best” is an example of a marketing strategy that creates guilt in the buyer if he or she goes for a less expensive card. The aggressive marketing ensures that the recipient also is aware that the product has a premium price. This encourages the consumer to buy the expensive cards on special occasions.
Social engineering 
|This section requires expansion. (August 2012)|
Social engineering as applied to security is the exploitation of various social and psychological weaknesses in individuals and business structures, sometimes for penetration testing but more often for nefarious purposes, such as espionage against businesses, agencies, and individuals, typically toward the end of obtaining some illegal gain, either of useful but restricted or private information or for monetary gain through such methods as phishing to obtain banking account access, or for purposes of identity theft, blackmail, and so forth. Exploitation of weaknesses caused by inducing cognitive dissonance in targets is one of the techniques used by perpetrators.
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 or the induced-compliance paradigm 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 dissonance 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 theory by linking it to the self-concept, clarifying that cognitive dissonance arises from conflicts between cognitions when those conflicts threaten a person's normally positive self-image. Thus, Aronson reinterpreted the findings of the original Festinger and Carlsmith study using the induced-compliance paradigm, stating 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. However, a recent result  seems to rule out such an explanation by showing revaluation of items following a choice even when people have forgotten their choices.
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. For example, Harmon-Jones and colleagues showed that people experience dissonance even when the consequences of their statements are beneficial—as when they convince sexually active students to use condoms, when they, themselves are not using condoms.
Chen and colleagues have criticized the free-choice paradigm and have suggested that the "Rank, choice, rank" method of studying dissonance is invalid. They argue that research design relies on the assumption that, if the subject rates options differently in the second survey, then the subject's attitudes towards the options have therefore changed. They show that there are other reasons one might get different rankings in the second survey—perhaps the subjects were largely indifferent between choices. Although some follow-up studies have found supportive evidence for Chen's concerns, other studies that have controlled for Chen's concerns have not, instead suggesting that the mere act of making a choice can indeed change preferences. Nevertheless, this issue remains under active investigation.
Using fMRI, Van Veen and colleagues investigated the neural basis of cognitive dissonance in a modified version of the classic induced compliance paradigm. While in the scanner, participants "argued" that the uncomfortable MRI environment was nevertheless a pleasant experience. The researchers replicated the basic induced compliance 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 counter-attitudinally 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.
Using the free choice paradigm, Sharot and colleagues have shown that after making a choice, activity in the striatum changes to reflect the new evaluation of the choice object, increasing if the object was chosen and decreasing if it was rejected. Follow-up studies have largely confirmed these results.
There may be evolutionary forces behind cognitive dissonance reduction. Researchers in a 2007 study examined how preschool children and Capuchin monkeys reacted when offered the choice between two similar options. The researchers had the two subject groups choose between two different kinds of stickers and candies. After choosing, the two groups were offered a new choice between the item not chosen and a similarly attractive option as the first. In line with cognitive dissonance theory, the children and the monkeys chose the “novel” option over their originally unchosen option, even though all had similar values. The researchers concluded that there were possible development and evolutionary forces behind cognitive dissonance reduction.
Subsequent studies have been done using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) technology to examine the decision-making process in the brain. A 2010 study showed that during decision-making processes where the participant is trying to reduce dissonance, activity increased according to the FMRI scan in the right-inferior frontal gyrus, medial fronto-parietal region and ventral striatum, whereas activity decreased in the anterior insula. Researchers concluded that rationalization activity may take place quickly (within seconds) without conscious deliberation. In addition, the researchers stated that the brain may engage emotional responses in the decision-making process.
Modeling 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 behavior. These include:
- Parallel Constraint Satisfaction Processes
- The Meta-Cognitive Model (MCM) of attitudes
- Adaptive connectionist model of cognitive dissonance
- Attitudes as constraint satisfaction model
See also 
- Affective forecasting
- Ambivalence, particularly the reference to The agony of ambivalence and ways to resolve it, Love–hate relationship and Splitting (psychology)
- Buyer's remorse is a form of post-decision dissonance.
- Choice-supportive bias is a memory bias that makes past choices seem better than they actually were.
- Cognitive bias
- Cognitive distortion
- Cognitive inertia
- Cultural dissonance is dissonance on a larger scale.
- Double bind is a communicative situation where a person receives different or contradictory messages.
- Double consciousness is conceiving of one's self both as itself and as society's image of it.
- Doublethink is a concept present in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four that allows a person to hold two contradictory ideas simultaneously and accept both of them as correct.
- 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.
- Emotional conflict is the presence in the subconscious of different and opposing emotions concerning the same situation.
- The Great Disappointment of 1844 is an example of cognitive dissonance in a religious context.
- Illusion-of-truth effect states that a person is more likely to believe a familiar statement than an unfamiliar one.
- Information overload
- Metanoia (psychology)
- Techniques of neutralization
- Terror management theory
- True-believer syndrome demonstrates carrying a post-cognitive-dissonance belief regardless of new information.
- Wishful thinking
- Memory conformity
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- 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.
- Van Overwalle, F., & Jordens, K. (2002). An adaptive connectionist model of cognitive dissonance. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6(3), 204–231.
- 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.
- Van Harreveld, F., van der Pligt, J., & de Liver, Y. (2009). The agony of ambivalence and ways to resolve it: Introducing the MAID model. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13, 45-61.
Further reading 
- Cooper, J (2007), Cognitive dissonance: Fifty years of a classic theory, London: Sage publications, ISBN 978-1-4129-2972-1, retrieved 6 March 2013
- Gawronski, B., & Strack, F. (Eds.). (2012). Cognitive consistency: A fundamental principle in social cognition. New York: Guilford Press.
- Harmon-Jones, E., & J. Mills. (Eds.) (1999). Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Matin, I., and Metin, S. (June 2011). The Advances in the History of Cognitive Dissonance Theory. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol. 1 No. 6.
- Tavris, C.; Aronson, E. (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.
New media 
Links to new media resources on cognitive dissonance.
- Video: TEDxTalk by Ash Donaldson on cognitive dissonance and how it affects decision-making
- Video and song: Song by Brad Wray "Cognitive Dissonance (Dissonant and Justified)"
- Video: Dummiez Movie: Cognitive Dissonance Theory