What Is Cognitive Dissonance? Definition and Examples

We accomplish this by justifying why our choice was the best option so we can believe that we made the right decision. In the study On the Measurement of the Utility of Public Works , Jules Dupuit reported that behaviors and cognitions can be understood from an economic perspective, wherein people engage in the systematic processing of comparing the costs and benefits of a decision. The psychological process cognitive dissonance theory of cost-benefit comparisons helps the person to assess and justify the feasibility of an economic decision, and is the basis for determining if the benefit outweighs the cost, and to what extent. Moreover, although the method of cost-benefit analysis functions in economic circumstances, men and women remain psychologically inefficient at comparing the costs against the benefits of their economic decision.

According to dissonance theory, self-esteem is threatened by inconsistency. Holding beliefs that are logically or ‘psychologically’ inconsistent, i.e., dissonant, with one another is uncomfortable. For example, suppose a student agrees to a request to write an essay in favor of a tuition increase at her school. Her knowledge that she is opposed to a tuition increase is dissonant with her knowledge that she agreed to write an essay in favor of a tuition increase. One way to reduce this threatening dissonance is for the student to change her attitude to be more in favor of a tuition increase. Cognitive dissonance theory postulates that an underlying psychological tension is created when an individual’s behavior is inconsistent with his or her thoughts and beliefs.


The next step is to identify the cause of inconsistencies in our thoughts. Understanding your beliefs and values behind the inconsistencies is an opportunity to develop deeper self-knowledge. Imagine confronting a sunbather with the information that excessive sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. The two thoughts – ‘sunbathing can cause cancer’ and ‘I am sunbathing’ – will cause the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.

  • While prediction errors, or “dissonant relations” between cognitions stem all the way up from direct sensory flow, it seems rather clear that these do not always induce dissonant psychological states.
  • Among them are how highly a particular belief is valued and the degree to which the beliefs are inconsistent.

We link primary sources — including studies, scientific references, and statistics — within each article and also list them in the resources section at the bottom of our articles. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy. 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 doctor or therapist. Decision freedom as a determinant of the role of incentive magnitude in attitude change.

Adding More Beliefs to Outweigh Dissonant Beliefs

This can increase action-oriented ecological rationality and enhanced capabilities to interact with a rich landscape of affordances. In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the perception of contradictory information and the mental toll of it. Relevant items of information include a person’s actions, feelings, ideas, beliefs, values, and things in the environment.

  • If you realize you are making excuses for a specific action or justifying destructive behaviors, you might be best served by stopping.
  • The full text can be requested from the authors free of charge via the ResearchGate website.
  • Dissonance as a result of inconsistencies of attitudes and behavior occurs when there are discrepancies between what we believe and what we do.

The subjects in the paid groups experienced dissonance due to inconsistencies between their attitudes and behavior. The subjects’ believed the tasks to be boring, but they told the confederate that the tasks were interesting. However, the one-dollar group rated the tasks positively, while the twenty-dollar group rated the tasks negatively.

An Evolutionary Rationale for Cognitive Dissonance?

The internal discomfort and tension of cognitive dissonance could contribute to stress or unhappiness. The effects may relate to the discomfort of the dissonance itself or the defense mechanisms a person adopts to deal with it. If that same person believed the COVID-19 pandemic was real but refused to wear a mask, their values and behaviors would contradict each other. This book includes examples of cognitive dissonance in today’s world.

cognitive dissonance theory

“More social science studies just failed to replicate. Here’s why this is good”. When these self-guides are contradictory psychological distress results. People are motivated to reduce self-discrepancy (the gap between two self-guides). After the 2020 election, which Joe Biden won, supporters of former President Donald Trump questioned the results, citing voter fraud. This continued even after such claims were dismissed by numerous state and federal judges, election officials, governors, and government agencies as false.

One may also feel an urge to acquire additional beliefs to help rationalize one’s actions despite the action not matching one’s values. The first step to resolving your cognitive dissonance is determining its cause. You can do that by asking yourself which cognitions and behaviors have caused a conflict. Once you identify the conflicting thoughts and beliefs, try to rate their value to you. If you aren’t fully committed to those ideas, thoughts, and beliefs, you might want to accept that it is time to let them go and replace them with those in sync with your actions.