Cognitive Dissonance: what does it mean?

Updated: Sep 28

Dissonance cognitive: what does it mean?

Cognitive dissonance is the result of having two opposing thoughts. Makes one disgruntled, thus leading to a change in their mindset, belief or actions, thereby, alleviating discomfort.

Cognitive dissonance is classified as a psychological phenomenon by psychologists. When people behave in a way that contradicts their beliefs, they experience behavioral and belief conflicts. Whenever cognitive dissonance is present, people employ a variety of means to ease their discomfort. An individual may have a tendency of denying information or explaining away something that is opposing his or her beliefs.

An individual may be advised to avoid sugary foods by reading a health book that describes the importance of maintaining a healthy diet in order to lose weight. The idea sounds wonderful to him! After reading the book, he begins a diet in hopes of losing a few pounds. Whenever he smells freshly baked goods in the afternoon, he cannot resist the temptation to eat a sweet treat. The man has a dilemma: He wants to eat the cake, yet he also wants to lose weight. Conflicts like this one can create a sense of cognitive dissonance.

It is normal to experience dissonance in daily life. Dissonance may occasionally be experienced when we are faced with a decision. In most cases, despite every dissonance we encounter on a daily basis, we smooth them out automatically and continue on with our lives. If our actions are in conflict with our values, we may experience psychological discomfort.

Who founded cognitive dissonance theory?

Leon Festinger developed the cognitive dissonance theory after observing people who believed world destruction would come from a tsunami, only to discover that nothing happened while it was occurring.

Members of the core group, in contrast with the fringes who tended to abandon previous mistakes by putting them behind them, as well as to reinterpret what they found and claim they realized they had been wrong (the belief system in the cult did not destroy the earth).

What causes cognitive dissonance?

1. Constraints on Compliance

A person who is compelled (publicly) to perform something they (privately) do not wish to do, an internal dissonance occurs between their cognitive understanding (I do not wish to do this) and their conduct (they do the task). A person who is forced to comply is one who is forced to act in a way that is contradictory to what they believe. Their past behavior can't be changed, so dissonance needs to be minimized by reevaluation of their behavior.

2. Finding new information

Dissonance is common when information is new. Whenever someone receives new information, particularly when that information contradicts prior information, there is an absence of congruence. According to the earlier example, the person was cognitively impaired the moment he realized just how beneficial it would be to eliminate sugary treats. A child may learn lying is okay. In the context of their upbringing, it is possible for their parents to not tell them the truth constantly. Eventually, they will not be allowed to lie in school. The child's mind is confronted by the new information.

3. Effort

Generally, things that have been put forth with considerable effort are valued more highly. When we invest a great deal of time and effort into something, and then we come to view it negatively, we may experience dissonance. There are, of course, ways to work years into accomplishing something that ends up being a waste of effort and time, and then try to convince ourselves that it wasn't really that difficult, or that the effort was enjoyable, or that it wasn't that time-consuming.

Most of us believe that anything we have accomplished is valuable, regardless of whether other people agree with us or not. Dissonance can be reduced by using a method known as "effort justification".

4. Making Decisions

During the course of a typical day, we make a number of decisions that (by and large) entail dissonance. You might be forced to decide whether to accept or reject a job because you turned down one in a gorgeous region of the country. The result would be dissonance no matter what. Your loved ones would be hard to replace if you were to take the job, and if you turned it down, the streams, mountains, and valleys would be difficult to replace.

Both alternatives have their advantages and disadvantages. If you choose an alternative, you won't be able to purchase its advantages and must accept its shortcomings.


The immediate result of cognitive dissonance is feeling uncomfortable and uneasy. Cognitive dissonance may be a result of people trying to avoid discomfort, so it affects minds, behavior, thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. Anxiety, guilt, and shame are common emotions associated with cognitive dissonance.

This may lead to:

  • Keeping beliefs or actions hidden from others

  • Justify any decision or action they take continuously

  • Discussing or debating specific topics is not permitted

  • Avoid learning anything contradictory to what they already believe

  • Whenever cognitive dissonance is present, no matter what research, newspaper articles, or medical advice is offered, you should ignore it

By avoiding factual information, people can continue adopting behaviors they do not fully support.

What are some ways to reduce cognitive dissonance?

You must change something in order to bring balance back to your life if you don't want to live with dissonance. Experts tend to recognize a few ways to reduce cognitive dissonance, but achieving complete consistency throughout is almost impossible.

1. Be more proactive.

A dysfunctional behavior can be changed in order to reduce cognitive dissonance. Those who regularly consume alcohol may choose to stop driving or hire services such as Uber instead of drinking. Second, a driver should align his or her actions with what is known to be dangerous about driving after drinking.

2. Beliefs need to change.

The way we construct "the way things are" is continually being rearranged so as to overcome dissonance. Our minds filter out unsupportable data in order to reinforce our beliefs. As a result, a person who smokes may seek out and believe scientific research that says smoking isn't necessarily damaging to the body. Consequently, they will experience less dissonance when continuing their behavior.

3. Conflicting information should be avoided or rejected

It is common for people to dismiss conflicting knowledge as a means of resolving cognitive dissonance. In psychology, confirmation bias is a tendency to be swayed in one's beliefs by information that does not accord with their current beliefs.

4. Explain your beliefs and behavior.

People who waste money frivolously are a good example of this. People who take risks often rationalize their risky behavior with phrases like "you can't take it with you." A good example is if they say "you have to live every moment fully." To rationalize their risky behavior, they say, "You never know when you will die".


There has been a lot of research done on cognitive dissonance, which has led to some interesting and sometimes surprising conclusions. As a result of the theory, we may not use very rational methods in order to achieve behavioral consistency. Cognitive dissonance cannot be measured scientifically, since it is intangible. (i.e. behaviorism). Thus, cognitive dissonance is subjective in nature.

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