What happens in Cognitive Dissonance


In 1957, Leon Festinger put forward the cognitive dissonance.

What does “dissonance” mean?

The word, “dissonance” refers to either a “lack of agreement” or an “inconsistency”.

In cognitive dissonance, we are entering into an internal clash among different cognitions – beliefs, thoughts, or attitudes.

Let us be clear this concept with a simple example;

Consider that someone likes to drink alcohol, and at the same time he or she thinks that alcohol seriously undermines health and causes other social and family problems. You see that both thoughts are in a clash.

What will happen next?

This conflicting dilemma creates unrest and shatters our mental peace. No one likes to live in that sort of situation. So, we weigh two options; either to change the behavior or defend the behavior by changing the cognition.

In the case of drinking, depending on several other factors, the drinker either changes the behavior or rejects the new cognition and instead sticks to the old one.

In their latest book, “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)”, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson update the cognitive dissonance theory. I found an excellent animated summary of this book on YouTube.

We can find another thought-provoking discussion with Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. You can read it here.

Not only in drinking, but we also experience this phenomenon in almost all our daily activities.

When buying something

Think that you are going to buy a car. After making the decision, we still continue to search for similar ones.

Why? We want to justify that we made a better deal.

Because we want to compare our buying price with others to make sure that we made a better choice.

In marketing

The concept is frequently used in marketing, more commonly two techniques: “foot-in-the-door” and “door-in-the-face”.

Foot-in-the-door technique

In this technique, their first task is to get the door open by getting the foot inside the house. If the salesman is successful in this step, the chances are higher in selling at least one product to the homeowner. 

However, the marketers apply it’s reversal also: “Door-in-the-face”.

Door-in-the-face technique

The opposite of the Foot-in-the- door technique is the Door-in-the-face technique. In this instance, we start with a much bigger request that is unlikely to achieve. Then, it is followed by a much smaller one. 

These techniques are in use in other fields too. Nancy Darling describes this technique in relation to parenting.  

Author: Prasantha De Silva

A specialist in Community Medicine board-certified in Sri Lanka and a research analyst in Canada

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