Psychology Dissonance1

Published on January 18th, 2013


The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance

By Tor G. Jakobsen

The concept of cognitive dissonance was introduced by the American psychologist Leon Festinger with his 1957-book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. His theory describes a psychological state of discomfort when one experiences inconsistency of having conflicting thoughts.

When this dissonance appears, a person will try to reduce it by using one out of two strategies: (a) he can change his cognition about his own behavior by changing his actions; or (b) he can change his knowledge about what is the proper behavior.

One of these two strategies needs to be taken in order to achieve consonance, which means having consistency of one’s opinions with those of one’s surroundings.

This theory was tested by Festinger and his companion J. Merrill Carlsmith in a controlled laboratory environment. Seventy-one male students took part in a dull and boring experiment. The students were then divided into three groups. One group was given one dollar in reward for convincing a girl (who was part of the plot) that the experiment in fact had been enjoyable and fun, while the other group was paid 20 dollars to do the same thing. The third group function as a control group, and was thus given no reward nor had to tell the girl that the experiment had been fun.

At the end of the experiment, the participants had to give an evaluation of it. The results show that those who had received only one dollar to convince the girl that the dull and boring tasks they had performed was fun, were also the ones that thought themselves the experiment had been most fun. Those who received twenty dollars, on the other hand, had not been able to convince themselves to such a degree that the tasks had been enjoyable. The control group was the most skeptical.

Question on Interview

Experimental Condition


(N = 20)

One Dollar

(N = 20)

Twenty Dollars

(N = 20)

How enjoyable tasks were rated (from -5 to +5) -0.45 +1.35 -0.05

Average ratings for each condition, source Festinger and Carlsmith (1959).

The conclusion was in accordance with Leon Festinger’s theory. When a person is induced to do or say something that contradicts his private opinion, he is likely to change his opinion to achieve consonance.

In the example of the experiment, if a person is told to do a boring task, and is paid a small amount of money to convince another person that the task was fun, he will also have to convince himself, that is, to change his own opinion, that the experiment had been fun.

However, if he is given a larger sum, the money in itself becomes the reason for persuading the girl, and that person does not have to convince himself to the same degree as when the reward was smaller.


Further reading:

Festinger, Leon (1957). A Theory of  Cognitive Dissonance. Evanstone, IL: Peterson and Company.

Festinger, Leon & J. Merril Carlmsith (1959) “Cognitive Consequences of Forced Complience” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58: 203–210.


*Cover photo by Brett Jordan

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2 Responses to The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Pete says:

    Generally I do not learn article on blogs, but I wish to say that
    this write-up very compelled me to check out and do so!
    Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very great article.

  2. saif says:

    please i need book festinger 1957

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