A Theory Of Cognitive Dissonance Theory By Leon Festinger

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Cognitive Dissonance Theory was developed by social psychologist Leon Festinger. The theory was first introduced in his 1957 book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance and further elaborated in the article Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance (Festinger and Carlsmith, 1959). Cognitive Dissonance refers to the discomfort that is felt when a person has two beliefs that conflict with each other, or when they are engaging in a behavior that conflicts with their values. The theory proposes that this discomfort motivates people to relieve the tension in one of two ways:

(1) by changing their beliefs to align with their behavior; or

(2) by changing their behavior to align with their beliefs (Oduh, 2016).

Crucial to the theory is the idea that cognitive dissonance always results in some kind of change. While this may seem intuitive, exactly what kind of change it will produce is not always obvious.

The theory builds on previous research that found that when someone is forced to argue for a position they don’t believe in, their opinion shifts to support what they argued for. It was predicted that incentives would amplify this effect and that the greater the incentive, the greater the shift. However, that was found not to be the case. Festinger and Carlsmith investigated this surprising finding in their seminal 1959 article on forced compliance.

The subjects in Festinger and Carlsmith’s experiment were forced to make statements that were contrary to their actual beliefs, and

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