Communication Theory | Semester One
Rohit Rohan | 134-B | PGP-19 | MICA
There were five of us friends hanging out at my house. During the conversations
that we were having – about life, television, movies, Facebook etc – a question
just popped into my mind.
“What will you do if your doctor tells you that you have only six weeks to live?” I
asked them. They all paused for a moment, gave it a minute’s thought and replied
back with almost similar replies.
“I would like to travel as much as I can..”
“I would take my parents abroad..”
“I’d like to give a shot to singing.. I have always wanted to do that..”
“I’ll try and talk to all the people and friends that I know.. you know.. for that final
time.. Of course I won’t tell them so.. but I guess it will be good to do that..
probably straighten out a few knots and tiffs..”
I sat there looking at them with a smile. Then when I did not say anything for a
while, all of them demanded an answer from me.
“Hey wait! What was the point of that question?”
“Yeah.. why did you ask us that?”
“What would you do? Is there a right answer? Was that a trick-question?”
I looked at all of them, “It was interesting how none of you would go to another
doctor for a second opinion..”
Cognitive dissonance is a term used to describe the discomfort felt by a person who has
multiple conflicting cognitions simultaneously.
It says that people have an urge to reduce their dissonance by either altering existing
beliefs, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by
reducing the importance of any one of the conflicting elements.
ARTWORK ON COGNITIVE DISSONANCE BY NANCY POCHIS BANK
Leon Festinger coined the term Cognitive Dissonance in his book When Prophecy Fails.
It said that their reality clashed with their belief in an impending apocalypse. The book
revolved around the followers of a UFO cult at crossroads. Later Festinger wrote
another book called "A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance" that was based exclusively on
Cognitive dissonance has become one of the most influential and extensively studied
theories in social psychology in today’s world.
Cognitions or beliefs are said to be of three main types. Cognitions are said to be either
consonant, dissonant or irrelevant.
Two cognitions are consonant if one fits with or logically follows from the other.
Cognitions are said to be dissonant if one of them follows from the opposite of another.
They are irrelevant when they are unrelated to each other.
If dissonance is experienced as an unpleasant discomfort, the individual is motivated to
reduce it. Now that the factors that affect the strength of this discomfort have been
identified, it should be possible to predict the ways to reduce it:
If two beliefs are conflicting, we can simply change one to make it consistent
with the other. Or we can change each cognition to follow the direction of the
If two cognitions cause a certain magnitude of dissonance, that magnitude
can be reduced by adding one or more consonant cognitions to it.
Since the conflicting and reinforcing cognitions must be weighed by
importance, it may be advantageous to alter the importance of the various
This bias gives the theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling,
irrational, and even destructive character.
Wanting to smoke and knowing that smoking is unhealthy; a person may try to change
their feelings about the odds that they will actually suffer the consequences, or they
might add the consonant ideas that the short term benefits of smoking outnumber the
long term adverse effects.
In the story, of the fox and the grapes, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes
to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach the grapes, he arrives at a
decision for himself that the grapes are probably not worth eating, with the justification
the grapes probably are not ripe or that they are sour (hence "sour grapes").
After a disaster in a community, irrational rumors spread in nearby communities
not involved in the disaster because of the need of those who are not threatened
to justify their anxieties
Bettors at a racetrack are more confident in their chosen horse just after placing
the bet because they cannot change their bet.
Attitude change, opinion change, seeking and recall of consonant information, avoidance of
dissonant information, perceptual distortion, and behavioral change are some of the common
modes of dissonance reduction. The cognitive dissonance theory does not specify the mode of
dissonance reduction but indicates that there are many possible ways to reduce dissonance.
In experiments and studies conducted, when the subjects responded to the experimental
manipulation in the manner predicted by dissonance theory, the dissonance researcher took
the results as evidence for the support of the theory. However, some psychologists have
suggested that many of the findings are the results of built-in biases or can be explained by
other competing theories, and that the affirmative result is not necessarily unequivocal
evidence for the theory.
Equivocal Evidence for Post-decision Dissonance ________________________
The experimental evidence frequently quoted to support the existence of post-purchase
dissonance was reported by Ehrlich. They also found, however, that both recent and not-recent
purchasers noticed and read more advertisements of considered-but-rejected makes of
automobiles than those of not-considered makes. This evidence cast doubt on the hypothesis
that purchasers experienced dissonance.
Another experiment by Berkowitz and Cottingham supports the view that people tend to be
interested in the topics which are relevant to themselves. They found that safety-belt users
were more interested in communication on safety-belts than were nonusers because the topic
was relevant to them.
Problems in Experimental Design ________________________
One of the problems with the findings of the theory could root from the way in which the
experiments were conducted. It is very possible that the design of the experiment was not
Analysis of the designs of such experiments over the years have shown that the experiment was
set up in such a way as to make it easier for high-dissonance subjects to show divergent
changes and for low-conflicting subjects to show convergent changes in their responses.
Although dissonance theory indicates that cognitive dissonance produces the above pattern of
changes, an alternative explanation is that the observed pattern of changes is the result of the
of the theory
areas of application
Evaluation of the theory with respect to advertising ______________________
Many results concerning exposure to discrepant information and post-decision dissonance
arousal have been shown to be equivocal. In the forced compliance experiments, the artificial
conditions under which compliance was obtained and some subjects' refusal to comply have
reduced the usefulness of the experimental findings to the analysis of consumer behavior.
It was shown, however, that if the subjects did comply, they attempted to reduce dissonance in
a predicted pattern.
However, consumers are unlikely to experience strong conflicting dissonances since they will
unknowingly commit themselves to undesirable or inferior products in a natural environment.
Role of Advertising as Dissonance Reducer____________________________
Dissonance theory sheds new light on the role of advertising of increasing the repurchase
probability of the advertised product. A seller's product advertisement reassures the consumer
as to the wisdom of the purchase by emphasizing its desirable features and therefore helps to
reduce post-purchase dissonance. Dissonance reduction, in turn, reinforces his purchase. It may
increase the probability of his purchasing the same brand.
Kalahari.com commercial : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkH95yTRzUg
TVS Wego commercial : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T-AIoW_uHE
Dissonance reduction may not really operate as a strong influencer in the case of frequentlypurchased products. The more frequently the product is purchased, the less important
becomes the question of which brand is purchased at any one time and the less the postpurchase dissonance. The consumer who has purchased a convenience good usually would not
experience strong dissonance because he knows that he is not irrevocably bound to that
particular choice, but can easily switch brands.
Since his dissonance is not strong, advertising's role in reinforcing the purchase is diminished.
On the other hand, the consumer who has just purchased an expensive specialty product is
likely to experience strong dissonance if his purchase is irrevocable and if it is important in
some psychological sense.
Rin v/s Tide commercial : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msczklmNj6E
Paper by S. Oshikawa : ‘Can Cognitive Dissonance be used to
study Consumer Behaviour?’
Paper by L. Festinger
Resource of the North Georgia University
Resource of South Carolina University