Have you ever suffered a disappointment and then convinced yourself that you weren’t disappointed at all? If you answered yes, you’ve experienced a psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance.
In 1956, psychology student Jack Brehm brought some of his wedding gifts to class (a lamp, a toaster, a transistor radio, etc.) and asked everyone to rate each item’s desirability. The students were then asked to choose between two items they found equally attractive. After making a choice, the students were asked to rate all the items again. Everyone increased the ratings of the items they had chosen and downgraded the ratings of their second-choice items, showing that humans will always try to convince themselves that they’ve made the right decision.
Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals largely become psychologically distressed. His basic hypotheses are listed below:
- “The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance”
- “When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance”
Individuals can adjust their attitudes or actions in various ways. Said adjustments result in one of three relationships between two cognitions or between a cognition and a behavior.
- Consonant relationship – Two cognitions/actions that are consistent with one another (Ex: Not wanting to get intoxicated while out, then ordering water instead of alcohol)
- Irrelevant relationship – Two cognitions/actions that are unrelated to one another (Ex: Not wanting to get intoxicated while out, then tying your shoes)
- Dissonant relationship – Two cognitions/actions that are inconsistent with one another (Ex: Not wanting to get intoxicated while out, then consuming six tequila shots)