Cognitive Dissonance

In 1956 the US psychologist Leon Festinger introduced a new concept in social psychology: the theory of cognitive dissonance. When two simultaneously held cognitions are inconsistent, this will produce a state of cognitive dissonance. Because the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, the person will strive to reduce it by changing their beliefs.

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Festinger started with a very simple proposition. If a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent, he experiences Dissonance: a negative drive state (not unlike hunger or thirst). Because the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, the person will strive to reduce it—usually by struggling to find a way to change one or both cognitions to make them more consonant with one another. What Festinger achieved was the forging a dynamic marriage between the cognitive and the motivational."
Aronson (1997)

"Cognitive dissonance is the mental conflict that people experience when they are presented with evidence that their beliefs or assumptions are wrong."
Montier (2002)

"Cognitive dissonance is a theory of human motivation that asserts that it is psychologically uncomfortable to hold contradictory cognitions. The theory is that dissonance, being unpleasant, motivates a person to change his cognition, attitude, or behavior."
The Skeptic's Dictionary (2005)

"Cognitive dissonance is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, which can be defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior. The theory of cognitive dissonance holds that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions. Experiments have attempted to quantify this hypothetical drive."
Wikipedia (2006)

"A deceptively simple cognitive consistency theory, first proposed in 1957 by the US psychologist Leon Festinger (1919-89), concerned with the effects of inconsistent cognitions—interpreted as items of knowledge or belief. If one of a pair of cognitions follows from the other, then the two are consonant; if one follows from the converse of the other, then they are dissonant; and if neither follows from the other or from its converse, then they are irrelevant to each other. [...]"
Colman (2001), Oxford Dictionary of Psychology

cognitive dissonance An emotional state set up when two simultaneously held attitudes or cognitions are inconsistent or when there is a conflict between belief and overt behaviour. The resolution of the conflict is assumed to serve as a basis for attitude change, in that belief patterns are generally modified so as to be consistent with behaviour."
cognitive dissonance theory Leon Festinger’s theory of attitude change based on the notion that we are motivated to adjust our attitudes to relieve COGNITIVE DISSONANCE. Also called dissonance theory.
Reber and Reber (2001), The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology

"A concept put forward by Festinger, in which the main proposal is that each individual strives to maintain consistency between their differing cognitions. Should a noticeable inconsistency arise, this will produce a state of cognitive dissonance, which the individual experiences as uncomfortable and attempts to correct. Dissonance is reduced by adjusting one of the beliefs or attitudes involved in the inconsistency, so that the conflict disappears. See balance theory.
Stratton and Hayes (1999), A Student’s Dictionary of Psychology

Original publication:
FESTINGER, Leon, Henry W. RIECKEN and Stanley SCHACHTER, 1956. When Prophecy Fails, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [Cited by 207] (4.93/year)