Cognitive dissonance alludes to the undesirable state of mental strain which individuals face while acting in a manner that contradicts with their own attitudes or beliefs. This occurs due to the irregularities in their thoughts or preceptions therefore, to lessen this discomfort there is an increased motivation to resolve the inconsistencies among attitudes and behaviours.
Festinger and Carlsmith came up with a design that demonstrates this principle in action. Participants took part in a task designed to be monotonous. They were then randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions, where both groups were told to tell a lie and inform who they thought were the next participants that the tasks they had just engaged in was in fact interesting.
However, individuals in group1 where paid one dollar each to do so and group2 were paid twenty dollars. Interviews were also conducted, the average rating of interview questions for each condition demonstrated significant differences. For example, a question asked was, ‘How enjoyable were the tasks (-5 to5)’, group1 rated 1.35 where as group2 rated -0.05, responding similarly to the control group who did not get paid at all, -0.45.
Suggesting group1 experienced greater cognitive dissonance since they responded more positively. Both groups were aware that the tasks were dull however, group2 had no inconsistencies between the behaviour of telling a lie and the belief of themselves being an honest person since they had sufficient justification, twenty dollars. Whereas, individuals in group1 were more likely to have discrete thoughts and no sufficient justification since they were only given one dollar.
Therefore, logically aligning their thoughts to the task and reducing dissonance by changing their own opinion of the tasks, becoming more constant by having a more positive view. There are several methods to resolve dissonance, which individuals in group1 may have also used. One of which is by modifying a cognition as a way of restoring consistency by reducing the discomfort that a person has or by changing the behaviour related to the inconsistency.
Individuals may also add a thought or behaviour that helps to rationalise the inconsistency as well as trivialising the inconsistency as an attempt to justify the behaviour. Finally, individuals could just deny cognitions all together. Cognitive dissonance may want to be resolved in the first place because it gets in the way of finding a sense of truth. Generally, to understand the world people aim to gather a clear consistent picture of it. Therefore, anything that makes us feel inconsistent is a problem which is why individuals may be motivated to restore consistency again.
Individuals also strive for harmony, therefore as soon as our cognition, attitudes and behaviours do not align, research suggests we feel physically uncomfortable, motivating methods discussed above to resolve these inconsistencies. There are times where dissonance is especially likely to motivate action to resolve inconsistency. Such as, individuals having the perception that they have a choice over the inconsistency.
This is because if individuals choose to do things that contradicts with their own opinion they are likely to find comfort in themselves by resolving these inconsistencies. Also if individuals have the perception that the inconsistencies have adverse consequences in the future, it may increase their motivation to resolve these. Cognitive dissonance therefore helps to explain why so much of human thinking is not rational but rationalising.