Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory is a crucial concept in psychology, enhancing the comprehension of human conduct and the ways in which people reconcile conflicting thoughts and viewpoints. Leon Festinger proposed that human beings strive for internal psychological consistency to function mentally in the real world (Dawson, 1999). This theory, developed in the mid-20th century, has been widely studied and discussed in various fields, including psychology, sociology, and communication studies. According to the theory, it proposed that when two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, individuals experience discomfort and psychological tension. This inconsistency, known as cognitive dissonance, leads people to change one of the inconsistent elements to reduce the dissonance or to add consonant elements to restore harmony (Tueanrat & Alamanos, 2023). The discomfort is triggered by the person's belief clashing with new information perceived, wherein the individual tries to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort (Festinger, 1957).

The theory of cognitive dissonance, proposed by Leon Festinger in 1957, has been a subject of consistent research, revision, and debate for over 60 years. Its enduring creativity stems from its formulation in broad, abstract terms, making it versatile in its application across a multitude of psychological themes, including the interplay of cognition, motivation, and emotion. Festinger's theory suggests that individuals experience discomfort when holding conflicting beliefs or behaviors, leading to a feeling of mental discomfort and a subsequent alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance. The theory's expansive scope is not confined to a singular topic; rather, it applies to diverse topics, making it a fundamental and widely studied theory in psychology and related fields. What is unique about Festinger's approach is that he sees cognitive dissonance as a repugnant state of mind that prompts individuals to reduce cognitive dissonance. Although the original concept of cognitive dissonance theory was intended to be applied to a wide range of psychological phenomena, later research has tended to focus on attitudes and behaviors (Harmon-Jones & Mills, 2019).

Cognitive Dissonance theory, proposed by Festinger, is based on two fundamental hypotheses:

  1. The existence of dissonance causes mental discomfort and motivates individuals to reduce the dissonance to restore consonance.
  2. To reduce dissonance, individuals will attempt to change their cognitions, behaviors, or attitudes and may also avoid situations or information that increases dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory, applied across various fields, explains how conflicting beliefs influence attitude and behavior changes. It includes four phases: cognitive discrepancy (conflict between beliefs), dissonance (recognition of this conflict), motivation (drive to reduce discomfort from dissonance), and discrepancy reduction (methods to alleviate dissonance) (Hinojosa et al., 2017). This theory is crucial in understanding post-purchase behaviors, affecting product evaluations, satisfaction, and repurchase intentions, with negative emotions playing a key role in dissonance strength and coping strategies. It also informs marketing and advertising strategies, helping craft persuasive messages by addressing dissonance to resonate with consumers (Koller & Salzberger, 2009; Koller & Salzberger, 2012).

While Cognitive Dissonance Theory has significantly advanced our understanding of human behavior, it is important to recognize its limitations. The theory, which focuses on reducing mental discomfort from conflicting beliefs, may oversimplify complex psychological processes. Its measurement of dissonance is challenging due to its subjective nature, and the theory may not fully account for cultural differences in experiencing and resolving dissonance. These limitations suggest that while the theory offers valuable insights, it might not entirely capture the diversity of human cognition and behavior. Acknowledging these shortcomings is crucial for a more nuanced application and understanding of the theory in various contexts.

In conclusion, Leon Festinger's Cognitive Dissonance Theory has been a key framework for understanding human behavior and cognition. It sheds light on how conflicts between beliefs and actions influence decision-making and behavioral changes. While its applications span various fields, from psychology to marketing, it is crucial to acknowledge the theory's limitations, such as challenges in measuring dissonance and cultural variations. Recognizing these aspects ensures a more comprehensive understanding and application of the theory, highlighting its continued relevance in exploring the complexities of human psychology and social interaction.


Dawson, L. L. (1999). When prophecy fails and faith persists: A theoretical overview. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 3(1), 60–82.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row & Peterson.

Harmon-Jones, E., & Mills, J. (2019). An introduction to cognitive dissonance theory and an overview of current perspectives on the theory. In E. Harmon-Jones (Ed.), Cognitive dissonance: Reexamining a pivotal theory in psychology (pp. 3–24). American Psychological Association.

Hinojosa, A.S., Gardner, W.L., Walker, H.J., Cogliser, C. & Gullifor, D. (2017). A review of cognitive dissonance theory in management research. Journal of Management, 43 (1), 170-199.

Koller, M. & Salzberger, T. (2009). Benchmarking in service marketing – a longitudinal analysis of the customer. Benchmarking: An International Journal, 16(3), 401-414.

Koller, M. & Salzberger, T. (2012). Heterogeneous development of cognitive dissonance over time and its effect on satisfaction and loyalty. Journal of Customer Behaviour, 11 (3), 261-280.

Tueanrat, Y., & Alamanos, E. (2023). Cognitive dissonance theory: A review. In S. Papagiannidis (Ed.), TheoryHub book.