A challenge to human evolution cognitive dissonance PMC

Our discussion starts with cognitive dissonance—one of the most prominent topics in social psychology. The central thesis of cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) is that when two beliefs are inconsistent, individuals experience negatively arousing cognitive conflict (called dissonance). Because the dissonance is aversive, the individuals try to reduce it by changing one or the other beliefs. For example, when making a difficult decision, individuals show attitude change that justifies the decision. In this case, individuals who face such a decision are conflicted because not all beliefs are consistent with the decision.

cognitive dissonance theory is most helpful for understanding

Considering cognitive dissonance and intergenerational trauma may help avoid one-sided responses to the tragedy in the Middle East. My desire to smoke was powerful, but at the same time I was afraid of trying it. However, if a person finds that they have difficulty stopping a behavior or thinking pattern that is causing them distress, they can seek support from a qualified healthcare professional, such as a primary care doctor or therapist. Because of this conflict between new and previous knowledge CD theory suggests that new knowledge should be discarded. This process of resolving CD by discarding contradictions is usually fast, “momentary” and according to CD theory new knowledge is discarded before its usefulness is established. By Neha Kashyap

Neha is a New York-based health journalist who has written for WebMD, ADDitude, HuffPost Life, and dailyRx News.


Providing the space and time to understand their new behavior and justifying it can help to reduce the dissonance. In fact, it is a psychological mechanism that helps us perceive our world (and our place in it) consistently. It is a mechanism that alerts us when we are not acting in line with our beliefs, attitudes, or plans. That slight feeling of discomfort we perceive when noticing this mismatch is called cognitive dissonance. Accepting negative thoughts and emotions rather than judging them may allow individuals to experience less negative emotion and, ultimately, foster better psychological health.

They were then paid either $1 or $20 to tell a waiting participant (a confederate) that the tasks were really interesting. Almost all of the participants agreed to walk into the waiting room and persuade the confederate that the boring experiment would be fun. In their laboratory experiment, they used 71 male students as participants to perform a series of dull tasks (such as turning pegs in a peg board for an hour). When someone is forced to do (publicly) something they (privately) really don’t want to do, dissonance is created between their cognition (I didn’t want to do this) and their behavior (I did it). According to Festinger, there are a few ways that a person might resolve this dissonance. This offers opportunities to discuss the discrepancies, deepen the relationship, and re-align values.

Changing Beliefs

A variety of social psychological theories evolved from CDT to focus on uncertainty-related threats. Like CDT, these certainty theories emphasize the need to supplant aversive, “nonfitting cognitions” with consonant ones, and focus on need for cognitive clarity and consistency. Cognitive dissonance (CD) is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting elements of knowledge. CD is among “the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology” (e.g., Alfnes et al., 2010, p. 147). It is well known that this discomfort is usually resolved by devaluing and discarding a conflicting piece of knowledge (Festinger, 1957; Cooper, 2007; Harmon-Jones et al., 2009); we discuss it in detail below. It is also known that awareness of CD is not necessary for actions to reduce the conflict, and these actions are often fast and momentary (Jarcho et al., 2011).

Cognitive dissonance can even influence how people feel about and view themselves, leading to negative feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. The degree of dissonance experienced can depend on a few different factors. Among them are how highly a particular belief is valued and the degree to which the beliefs are inconsistent.

Cognitive Dissonance Psychology

Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person’s behavior and beliefs do not complement each other or when they hold two contradictory beliefs. It causes a feeling of discomfort https://ecosoberhouse.com/article/five-myths-about-alcoholism-you-probably-didnt-know/ that can motivate people to try to feel better. For example, a small 2019 study notes that dissonance-based interventions may be helpful for people with eating disorders.

cognitive dissonance theory is most helpful for understanding

The women then rated the desirability of eight household products that ranged in price from $15 to $30. The products included an automatic coffee maker, an electric sandwich grill, an automatic toaster, and a portable radio. Brehm (1956) was the first to investigate the relationship between dissonance and decision-making. Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education.

Causes of Cognitive Dissonance

It is recommended that future research investigate the use of cognitive dissonance and Internet-based approaches in schools. Note that social comparison mechanisms and consistency reduction mechanisms are both self-enhancement strategies, yet they cognitive dissonance treatment seem to have little in common. Threat from dissonance rarely has anything to do with the performance of another, i.e., social comparison. Similarly, inconsistency is generally irrelevant to an SEM threat, whereas other’s performance is crucial.

  • Similarly, inconsistency is generally irrelevant to an SEM threat, whereas other’s performance is crucial.
  • When they encounter conflicting values or beliefs in the workplace, it can lead to job dissatisfaction and decreased engagement.
  • To deal with the feelings of discomfort then, they might find some way of rationalizing the conflicting cognition.
  • Notably, the resulting attitude change can be long lasting (Sharot, Fleming, Yu, Koster, & Dolan, 2012).
  • Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort a person feels when their behavior does not align with their values or beliefs.
  • Crafting persuasive marketing messages that resonate with consumers’ existing beliefs can help reduce cognitive dissonance.

When someone acts or behaves in a way that doesn’t align with what they believe to be right, the contradiction causes discomfort. Cognitive dissonance theory, proposed by Festinger, focuses on the discomfort felt when holding conflicting beliefs or attitudes, leading individuals to seek consistency. Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and behavior in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). Sometimes, the ways that people resolve cognitive dissonance contribute to unhealthy behaviors or poor decisions. To deal with the feelings of discomfort then, they might find some way of rationalizing the conflicting cognition. For instance, they may justify their sedentary behavior by saying that their other healthy behaviors—like eating sensibly and occasionally exercising—make up for their largely sedentary lifestyle.

It is the mental tension that arises when we hold conflicting ideas or engage in behaviors that contradict our core principles. This internal conflict can lead to profound implications in our decision-making processes, attitudes, and even our sense of self. The psychology behind cognitive dissonance has long fascinated researchers and philosophers alike, as it delves into the depths of human cognition and the mechanisms by which we strive to maintain internal consistency.

Therapists aim to help their patients by understanding and changing their attitudes, emotions, or behaviors. Dissonance can also be experienced vicariously through people of a social group that we identify with. When they act inconsistently with their attitude, we feel the same discomfort as if we had acted inconsistently with our attitude ourselves (Cooper, 2016). While cognitive dissonance is often described as something widely and regularly experienced, efforts to capture it in studies don’t always work, so it could be less common than has been assumed.