Theory of cognitive dissonance

  • Sep 13, 2021

Psychological studies have made it possible to determine that a person's behavior depends on various factors that influence each other. One of these factors, probably one of the most important, is the knowledge of oneself and the environment that surrounds the individual.

In general, people try to make the beliefs they have internalized, what they know about themselves and their environment are coherent. But when there is no coherence between these elements, a conflict arises that has been called cognitive dissonance by the psychologist León Festinger.


This dissonance usually appears when the individual is faced with a decision-making situation. How can this inconsistency be reduced to avoid conflict? How can cognitive dissonance theory be applied in business?

In this article you will find:

What does the cognitive dissonance theory refer to?

Festinger states that the individual will always try to achieve a state of coherence; that is to say, that what he knows about himself and his surroundings is in harmony. When both elements are not in agreement, what the psychologist calls cognitive dissonance appears.


Such dissonance is one of the factors that influence the incongruous behavior of a person. To solve this conflict, the individual will look for external factors that allow him to justify the incoherence that is occurring, which generally leads to self-deception.

To better understand this theory, it must be clear what the term "cognitive element" refers to; This refers to what the subject believes, thinks or thinks of her environment or of himself. These elements can be related in three different ways:


  • Dissonant: the individual has a belief, but acts contrary to it. For example, he thinks that tobacco can cause cancer, but he continues to smoke because he enjoys it.
  • In a consonant way: the individual acts according to her beliefs or opinions. For example, you think that smoking is bad for your health, so stop smoking.
  • Irrelevant: what the individual thinks or believes has nothing to do with her way of acting. For example, the individual thinks that smoking can affect health and enjoys video games.

Cognition works as a mechanism for people to understand their environment and adopt attitudes that allow them to adapt. When you are faced with a situation that requires decision-making and that causes a conflict between your cognitions, cognitive dissonance appears.

Consequently, the behavior of the person is affected by this conflict, trying to reduce cognitive dissonance. How can you do it?


Is it possible to reduce cognitive dissonance?

Since it produces a feeling of discomfort, the human tendency is to try to reduce the level of cognitive dissonance. Consequently, some of these three scenarios can occur:

  • Alters the cognitions of themselves to adapt them to the reality of their environment. This causes a change in his behavior to make it consistent with the environment around him.
  • He maintains without altering the convictions of him trying to modify his environment so that both factors are in tune. That is, it tries to make the external environment conform to its values.
  • In case of not being able to make modifications in their environment or in their convictions, the individual must adapt and learn to live with dissonance.

Some recommendations from psychology professionals to avoid or reduce cognitive dissonance are:


  • Periodically self-evaluate to verify that values ​​and beliefs are in line with reality.
  • Maintain a good balance between self-esteem and humility.
  • Add new cognitive elements.

 How to apply the theory of cognitive dissonance in a company?

Knowing the theory of cognitive dissonance can help the development of a company or business by applying it in various ways.

  • In marketing strategies

Consumers of the service or product offered by the company, such as human beings, may present a certain level of dissonance before their acquisition. With this in mind, it is best to opt for a strategy that reduces these levels of dissonance; allowing them to feel good about the decision to acquire what the company offers.

A good option is to note why you need a certain service or product, so that the consumer adds this to their cognition. This can influence the decrease in pre-purchase dissonance.

  • At the address

The role of a director or team manager is to achieve the objectives set by the company. Knowing the theory of cognitive dissonance you can use it in favor of the team to direct it in the best way.

For this, it is necessary that you know your staff members well so that you can detect when someone presents some level of dissonance. As soon as you notice some type of incoherent behavior, you should use phrases that influence the individual that make him change.

For example, he may recognize that he has done a good job in the past, so it is surprising that he has made a mistake; This can cause their cognitions to shift and their behavior to match expectations.

Sources and references

  • Chiavenato, Idalberto. Human Resources Administration: The human capital of organizations. P. 46 Mexico: Mac Grall Hill, 2007.
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