In the realm of psychology, few theories have captured our fascination and understanding of human behaviour as vividly as Leon Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory. First introduced in 1957, this theory has had a profound impact on our comprehension of why people make decisions, how they react to inconsistencies in their beliefs, and the lengths they go to maintain a sense of cognitive harmony.

At its core, Cognitive Dissonance Theory posits that when individuals hold two or more conflicting beliefs or attitudes, they experience psychological discomfort, known as cognitive dissonance. This discomfort acts as a powerful motivator, driving people to reduce the dissonance and restore internal consistency.

1. Belief Discrepancy:

Cognitive dissonance begins when a person encounters a situation that conflicts with their existing beliefs, values, or attitudes. This could manifest in various ways, such as a smoker recognizing the health risks associated with smoking or a person advocating for environmental conservation while frequently using single-use plastics.

2. Psychological Discomfort:

Experiencing cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable. Individuals feel tension, anxiety, or guilt because their actions or beliefs are at odds with each other. This discomfort serves as a powerful motivator for change.

3. Reducing Dissonance:

Festinger’s theory suggests that individuals are motivated to reduce cognitive dissonance by either changing their beliefs, altering their behaviours, or seeking out information that justifies their current stance. This reduction in dissonance brings psychological relief.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory has far-reaching implications and is readily observed in everyday life. It explains why people resist changing long-held beliefs, why we justify our actions even when they contradict our values, and how we seek out information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs, creating echo chambers in the age of the internet.

Leon Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory provides a compelling framework for understanding the complex interplay between beliefs, actions, and the human psyche. It reminds us that our decisions and behaviours are influenced not only by external factors but also by our inner need for cognitive harmony. Recognising this theory’s role in our lives can lead to greater self-awareness and an understanding of why people sometimes act in seemingly irrational ways. As we navigate the complexities of human behaviour, Festinger’s theory continues to be a guiding light in the field of psychology.


About the Author, Bianca Nappo

Bianca is in her final year of a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of Canberra.

Our speech pathology and psychology clinic is located in Braddon, ACT, in Canberra’s CBD. Call us on 5117 4890 or email to get in touch.

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