Leon Festinger, in 1957, proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance. According to this theory, people want their belief to be consistent with one another and want their behaviours to be consistent with their beliefs. When people become aware of inconsistency among their beliefs or between their attitudes and their behaviour, they experience "cognitive dissonance", an unpleasant state of arousal that motivates them to re establish consistency by changing one of their attitudes or by changing their behaviours. Thus, if a person behaves in a way that runs counter to his or her attitude, cognitive dissonance is created in that person. He or she then attempts to reduce the dissonance by changing either the attitude or the behaviour.
Cognitive dissonance refers to any incompatibility that an individual might perceive between two or more of his or her attitudes or between his or her behaviour and attitudes.
Festinger argues that any form of inconsistency is uncomfortable and that individuals will attempt to reduce the dissonance and hence, the discomfort. Therefore, individuals will seek a stable state where there is a minimum of dissonance.
Coping with Dissonance
No individual can completely avoid dissonance. So how do people cope with dissonance?
According to Festinger, the desire to reduce dissonance would be determined by the importance of the elements creating the dissonance; the degree of influence the individual believes he or she has over the elements and the rewards that may be involved in dissonance.
These moderating factors suggest that just because individuals experience dissonance they will not necessarily move directly toward consistency, that is, toward reduction of this dissonance. If the issues underlying the dissonance are of minimal importance, if an individual perceives that the dissonance is externally imposed and is substantially uncontrollable by him or her, or if rewards are significant enough to off set the dissonance, the individual will not be under great tension to reduce the dissonance.
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