“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief.” ― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1)
The quote cited above very well explains one of the most important and yet so practical theory in Communication studies. Leon Festinger gave this theory which revolves around the idea that people do things that don’t fit with what they know or having opinions that don’t fit with other opinions they hold.
Causes of Dissonance:
i) After making and important and difficult decision
ii) Being forced to say or do something contrary to beliefs, attitudes &opinions.
iii) Exposure to discrepant information.
The degree of dissonance is largely dependent on the significance of the decision, the foregone alternatives and their associated importance, which were foregone during decision making.
The example being quoted here talks about how cognitive dissonance theory affects the consumer behavior in people. The experiment reported by “Ehrlich et al” supported the theory (2); findings suggest that larger the amount of automobiles a purchaser considered before making the purchase, greater would be the frequency of reading advertisement of the same company whose product the consumer bought. An exception to this theory is that people selectively considered the advertisements of rejected and ignored makers as well. The automobile makers they dint consider at all were also chucked out while reading adverts. On the other hand, for those who were considered and rejected, were still consumed in the form of advertisements. The above example talks about post decision dissonance wherein right after buying the automobile, consumers experienced dissonance as automobile is a onetime purchase, and was important to them.
However, a criticism to this was given by “LoSciuto” and “perloff” through an experiment where they asked subjects to rate nine phonograph records as per desirability. The study suggested that dissonance shall lead the purchaser to consider the chosen product more favorably than the rejected product. (3)
Likeminded people stay together. To hold on to their beliefs people select the information that causes least dissonance. For example, Safety belt users showed more interest in communication regarding the same than non-users.
Applications of Cognitive Dissonance
(1) Cognitive Dissonance is used greatly in Sales and Marketing wherein the marketers and salesmen try to create a dissonance in the already held beliefs in the consumers’ mind in order to pitch their product/service as the superlative solution. This is done by changing the belief they already hold dear to themselves. (4)
Cognitive Dissonance finds its way in the advertising industry as well wherein different companies across different industries use this theory to create difference in their own perceived image in the minds of the consumer in order to purchase their products or services. Examples of such things are aplenty. (5)
When we feel dissonance in something in our life, an immediate reaction is to reduce that dissonance somehow. It feels like screeching noise of nails on a black board which we want to get away with. There are different methods of reducing dissonance as well.
Selective Exposure to reduce dissonance
Let us take the example of a person suffering from obesity. Now, on meeting with a doctor he is told that his tryglicerides are beyond the permissible limit. He promises the doctor...