Cognitive Dissonance Theory


Cognitive dissonance is a state of conflict between one’s beliefs and/or behaviors. When a person’s attitudes and actions do not match there can be extreme tension. This theory suggests that the human mind aims to eliminate these tensions in predictable ways. Festinger (1956) states there are three ways the mind rids of dissonance:

1. Altering the importance of a belief
2. Emphasize a new belief to support a behavior
3. Changing the behavior

Why use it?

  • Awareness of self-reasoning
  • Learners’ information processing
  • Managing conflict


Example 1

Belief: I believe that I eat healthily.
Behavior: I eat an entire supreme pizza for dinner.

1. Changes value of belief: I don’t eat that healthy.
2. Creates new belief: Supreme pizza isn’t unhealthy because it has vegetables on it.
3. Changes behavior: Eats a salad for dinner instead of pizza.

Example 2

Belief: I am smart in all my school subjects.
Behavior: I struggle to understand how to graph a parabola.

1. Changes belief: I am really not that smart.
2. Creates new belief: I am still smart, but dumb in math.
3. Changes behavior: I ask more questions and master the material.

Example 3



Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

McLeod, S. A. (2008, January 1). Cognitive Dissonance. Theory. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from