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Cognitive Dissonance Theory

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Cognitive dissonance is the feeling one gets when holding two contradictory thoughts at the same time. Dissonance is usually fairly strong when one believes something about him but then acts against this belief. It is relevant to mention that cognitive dissonance is a strong motivator in our life. Subsequently it has the power to often lead us to change one of the conflicting beliefs or actions, which consequently releases the state of dissonance. This certain discomfort can be simply described as a tension between two opposing thoughts, a change in attitude.

The principle of cognitive consistency states that, human being are internally active information processors. And in accordance to this principle, which is fundamental to the theory, humans alter a large number of cognitive elements in order to achieve cognitive coherence. It can therefore be stated that cognitive dissonance theory is not solely about attitude change, but also about motivation.

Cognitive dissonance theory has been examined under three different viewpoints.

1. Dissonance following a decision

2. Dissonance resulting from effort

3. Engaging in counter-attitudinal behaviour

1. When speaking about dissonance following a decision one has to chose between to correspondingly striking alternatives, with the estimate that we will degrade the alternative that we rejected.

2. Dissonance resulting from effort is the decision of putting yourself through an embarrassing or stressful situation, only for it to eventually turn out to be rather insignificant then warranting. In this case the prediction is that the situation will be judged as more important and therefore the level of embarrassment rises.

3. Engaging in counter-attitudinal behaviour is a case of cognitive dissonance, which I will illustrate through the use of Festinger's experiment following now.

Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony. According to his theory, a powerful motivation to uphold cognitive consistency had the potential to give rise to irrational and sometimes maladaptive behaviour. Other than that he argues that we hold many cognitions about the world but as well about ourselves. When they quarrel though, a discrepancy is evoked resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. Furthermore it is relevant to mention that dissonance appears to be the most powerful when it is about ones self image. This again is linked to social identity theory.

Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) conducted an experiment in which the volunteers were asked to perform dull and tedious tasks. The point of these tasks was

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