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Cognitive Dissonance in Simple Terms

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Another revision was offered by Cooper and Fazio. He stated that dissonance occurs due to an unwarranted consequence. This was referred to as “new look”, which meant that people feel bad about their actions if they result in an adverse consequence and thus a dissonance is created. Dissonance is only created if it results in an unwarranted consequence, not otherwise.

Theory of cognitive dissonance helps in understanding the psychological process of accepting or resisting change. It also helps in comprehending the actions taken by the individuals during alignment, misalignment or realignment stages of transformation.

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Practical Applications and relevance: Cognitive dissonance is used quite widely in real life commercial activities. Companies use its applications in their marketing activities to better engage with the customers and keep them engaged. Cognitive dissonance, which refers to discomfort felt when a person acts against his/her own opinions and interests. The applications of cognitive dissonance are quite common-place. Since cognitive dissonance refers to the intricacies of human nature, how we see ourselves, how we interact with others and how we perceive the world and how we want the world to perceive us.

Cognitive dissonance, we may not even be aware of it, our brain typically figures out a way of reacting fast. Everyday interaction, bumping into someone else, what to say, what not to say, whether we get upset or just try to rationalize it by giving some excuse. By trying to rationalize the situation, we try to reduce or eliminate the dissonance immediately.

Sometimes our rationalizations may not even make sense. Sometimes we know that something is bad for us, but we continue to do it. For example: A pregnant woman smokes. She knows that it is bad for her and the baby. However, she may try to rationalize the decision by thinking that she needs the smoke to cope with the situation.

A lot of examples are related to situations when we try to justify or rationalize the mistakes. However, we can use to enforce positive behavior or try to change or inhibit previous bad habits we would not like to make. An individual can justify an activity for e.g. jogging or hitting a gym, by thinking that the activity is good for his health, which is supported by research. This kind of thinking keeps the individual going as it enforces the idea of a greater purpose and it helps in keep the individual going. You may not want to go to the gym, but now that you have done it, you must justify it.

It is quite widely used in marketing and management. In management, cognitive dissonance can be used to explain management of change. Since cognitive dissonance is likely to occur after a decision, which may require a change in behavior or attitude. When people are in a position to adopt new behavior that generates cognitive dissonance, they are more likely to adopt the change if they believe that they have a choice in the matter or freedom to change. If the subject does not feel that he has a choice, he will be more resistant to the change. Furthermore, if the change is difficult to implement or act upon, it will also create stronger resistance and thus there will be greater motivation and need to reduce the dissonance. In the context of organizations, people are surrounded by various dissonance creating situations, it becomes important to involve people in decision making process.

Additionally, the alignment of logic plays another important role in managing cognitive dissonance. Logic is what we use to justify the actions that we take. On an organizational level, the employees may agree to a certain action but deep down it may contradict with their inherent beliefs. So, the employees may stick with their core beliefs in short run but may realign their cognitive structure and may get on board with the environmental change.

The cognitive dissonance theory can be used as a mean of explaining the effects of business ethics and judgements in organizational setting. According to Doran and others, cognitive dissonance can also be used to explain certain work behavior intention and work attitudes. The people who join an organization with the intention to quit report lower job satisfaction so that they remain consistent in their attitudes and behaviors.

Brehm and Cohen’s work focuses on the perception of free choice and confirms that the relationship between intention to quit and job satisfaction is higher when the employee has higher economic freedom.

So, companies can use cognitive dissonance theory to increase the work motivation and satisfaction.

In marketing, it is important to understand why customers behave the way they do. According to a study by Kaish, consumer goods can be divided into three types: convenience goods, shopping goods and specialty goods. He noted that, for a consumer, the self-image provided by good is very important and it translates into the economic value of good. Dissonance not only related to importance of the product but also to the product performance and number of alternatives available.

Critical evaluation and limitations: Cognitive dissonance has provided great insight into human psyche by trying to explain the information seeking nature and post selection behavior. However, this theory has its own limitations. One, cognitive dissonance provides no knowledge on how to reduce cognitive dissonance in a way that furthers the users’ goals. It mentions several methods to reduce cognitive dissonance such as add consonant cognitions, change dissonant cognitions, and alter the importance of cognitions, however none of these reduce in a way that furthers the users’ goals.

Secondly, dissonance does not talk about the individual differences. Some people can tolerate dissonance better than others. They are not bothered by inconsistencies in their thought.

Thirdly, this theory does not take into account the nature of persuading message. The impact of marketing messages needs to be taken into account. Strong messages are capable in creating more dissonance, whereas weaker messages may not be able to create dissonance. This theory ignores the effect of message on persuasion.

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