When a person holds two or more contradictory or inconsistent beliefs, ideas, or values, he or she experiences a mental discomfort. This mental discomfort or psychological stress is described as COGNITIVE DISSONANCE.
A seemingly simple cognitive consistency theory was first introduced by the US psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957. The concept is related to the effects inconsistent cognitions i.e. knowledge or belief, has on a person. It is believed that, inconsistent or contradictory beliefs or ideas are very hard to maintain and often cause tension, which ultimately motivates a person to bring change in those beliefs or ideas. If both the beliefs or ideas in the cognition pair are in harmony they are considered consonant, if one of the beliefs in the cognition pair is opposite to the other, they are dissonant; and if they are neither in harmony nor converse of the other, then such beliefs are said to be irrelevant to each other.
A state of tension is created due to dissonance relation which, in turn, leads to three types of dissonance-reducing behaviors:
- Changing one of the two perceptions or cognitions
- Decreasing the perceived importance of dissonant cognitions
- Adding further (justifying) cognitions
This may be better understood by the following example. A classic case of dissonance is a smoker who holds two beliefs, i.e., “I smoke cigarette” and “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health.” These two sets of information are mutually contradictory and will lead to a state to dissonance. Therefore, to reduce this dissonance, the person will chose one of the above-mentioned dissonance-reducing behaviors.