How does cognitive dissonance explain changes in moral cognition for individuals?

How does cognitive dissonance explain changes in moral cognition for individuals?


This paper employs Leon Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory (CDT) of 1957 in the explanation of changes in moral cognition for individuals. It demonstrates all the key pieces of the theory. In the rest of the paper, numerous behavioral points that support the theory are presented. In a time of plentiful info, the danger of picking up just that information that supports our prior beliefs is constantly discussed. This theory is capable of then being a beneficial critical instrument, which makes people cognizant of this ever probable trap.


Cognitive dissonance is a state that involves contradictory approaches, behaviors or beliefs. This crops a sense of uneasiness that results to adaptation in one of the insolences, behaviors or beliefs to lessen the uneasiness as well as reinstate balance etcetera. Cognitive dissonance theory advocates that people have an internal energy to hold their beliefs and attitudes entirely in congruence and avoid dissonance (or disharmony). Attitudes may change due to aspects within the individual. A significant aspect here is the cognitive consistency principle, the Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory of focus. This theory begins from the impression that we strive for constancy in our credence and insolences in whichever state where two cognitions are uneven (Gawronski, 2012).

This paper focuses on how cognitive dissonance explains changes in moral cognition for individuals.

Moral Cognition for Individuals

Morality is key to individual social contacts. Moral values, norms, codes, as well as beliefs, offer the framework for the way persons in varied cultures make choices concerning the way to manage one another as well as how to co-exist in non-violent and communal systems. When people are perceived to make ethical decisions, they are more often than not supposed as having had some kinds of moral insight or moral cognition into the nature of the dilemma. In any case, that of the observer diverges considerably from that of the acting or affected parties; the decision will merely be seen as immoral, selfish. When individuals make ethical decisions, they assess an agent’s actions given a system of models. Ideally, most people’s work has concentrated on the primary aspect of people’s insight of the agent’s behavior as well as their expected inferences concerning the agent’s psychological status. Therefore, this scrutiny of mentality, as well as behavior, remains in the same way pertinent to daily life as it is to official decision-making (Malle, Guglielmo & Monroe, 2012).

How Cognitive Dissonance Explain Changes in Moral Cognition for Individuals (Leon Festinger’s CDT)

More than 50 years ago Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, established the CDT (Festinger, 1957). This theory has visibly stood the time test in that it is cited in most common as well as social psychology textbooks at present. The CDT is rather counterintuitive and, in reality, fits into a type of counterintuitive social psychology models one-times stated to as action-opinion models. The vital distinctive of action opinion models remain that they recommend that actions can impact on ensuing attitudes and beliefs. This remains counterintuitive as it would appear reasonable that our deeds are due to our attitudes or beliefs, not as result of them. Nonetheless, on more scrutiny of these types of theories have prodigious instinctive entreaty as the theories, mostly cognitive dissonance, tackle the inescapable human propensity to vindicate (Murray, Wood & Lilienfeld, 2012).

The vital Festinger’s CDT proposition remains that in case an individual holds two cognitions, which are in conflict, the person will experience an aversive motivational force. This energy is referred to as cognitive dissonance (a force that the individual will try to take away, among other approaches, by changing a dissonant cognition (Metin & Camgoz, 2011). Festinger regarded the need to keep away from dissonance so as to be as fundamental as the significance of safety or the importance of satisfying hunger. Psychologists describe a drive as whichever inner source motivation, which forces a being to pursue an objective or to gratify a need, for instance, self-preservation, hunger, or sex.  The aversive (upsetting) mental state termed cognitive dissonance as conceptualized as an upsetting force (Harmon-Jones & Harmon-Jones, 2012).

CDT is based on three central assumptions: Humans are subtle to inconsistencies between beliefs and actions; credit of this discrepancy will result to dissonance and will inspire a person to solve the dissonance; dissonance will be solved in one of these three rudimentary approaches: Change actions, change beliefs, and change action perception. To start with, people are subtle to variations between beliefs and actions. Consistent with CDT, they entirely identify, at some degree, when they are acting in a manner that remains erratic with their opinions or attitudes or beliefs. There is an inbuilt in alarm, which goes off when people notice such a variation, whether they like it or not. For instance, in case an individual has a conviction, which it is erroneous to cheat, yet the person finds himself cheating on a test that the person will notice as well as be moved by this inconsistency. Secondly, the credit of this inconsistency will result to dissonance and will encourage a person in resolving the dissonance. Once individuals distinguish that they have infringed one of their principles, consistent with CDT, they will not merely agree to it. They will feel some psychological pain concerning this. The dissonances extend; apparently, will differ with the significance of people’s attitude or belief or principle and with the point of inconsistency between this belief and behavior. Whatever the case may be, consistent with the theory, the more the dissonance the further an individual will be driven to resolve it. Thirdly, dissonance will be determined in change beliefs, change actions, or change discernment of action (Matthey & Regner, 2011).

Change beliefs: Possibly the simplest approach to solving dissonance between beliefs and actions remain merely changing views. Obviously, one could just choose that cheating is fine. This would undertake whichever dissonance. Nonetheless, in case the belief remains vital and significant to a person such a path of action remains doubtful. Furthermore, people’s basic attitudes and beliefs remain pretty steady, and people fail to merely go around altering basic opinions, attitudes, or beliefs occasionally since they trust very much on their world view in the prediction of events and organization of their thoughts. As a result, though this remains the simplest choice for determining dissonance it is perhaps not the most common (Cooper, 2011).

Change actions: The next option would be making sure that these deeds are not recurring again. To the degree that persons may decide that they will never deceive on a test once more, and therefore this may assist in resolving the dissonance. On the other hand, aversive conditioning is capable of often being a pretty meek learning approach, mainly in case people are capable of training their self not to observe these things. Furthermore, individuals may engage in fact advantage in various approaches from the action that is contradictory with their certainties. Therefore, the trick would remain to get rid of this sensation devoid of changing their actions or beliefs, and this lead them to the third, and in all probability most universal, resolution method (Chabrak & Craig, 2013).

Change perception of action, is a third, as well as more multifaceted resolution method that denotes, is changing the way individuals perceive/keep in mind/observe their action. In more informal terms, people would “rationalize” their deeds. For instance, some might choose that the test they deceived on was that they did not need anyway. Or they may say to themselves that everybody deceives so why not them? Alternatively, some may think about their action in a diverse approach or framework with the intention that it no longer emerges to be contradictory with their beliefs. In case one may conjecture this series of psychological gymnastics awhile you will perhaps know why cognitive dissonance has remained to be so popular.

A person may be forced to do something (that they regard private) publicly. However, in this situation according to Festinger’s CDT, a dissonance is formed between their behavior and cognition. This is referred to as forced compliance. It takes place when a person does an action, which is in conflict with his beliefs. Having in mind that this behavior cannot be altered (already past), the dissonance will require reduction by a re-evaluation of their attitude to what is already done. This aspect experimented. The participants developed a negative attitude towards the task, and they were paid to lie to the other participants that the tasks were fascinating. This made the participants convince others to take part in the activity.

On the same note, dissonance is always provoked by the every day’s decisions. However, people have developed various approaches to reducing this dissonance (Festinger, 1964). In most cases, many resort to changing their behavior. Nevertheless, this is often very hard. Therefore, people typically employ “spreading apart the alternatives,” the use various psychological mechanisms, for instance, increasing of the charisma of the selected option at the same time decreasing the charisma of the other option (Wicklund & Brehm, 2013).

The CDT denotes that people have the tendency of seeking constancy in their cognitions. However, the moment there is an irregularity between dissonance (behavior or attitudes); here is a need for change so as to do away with the dissonance. There are a number of ways of changing individual dissonance. To start with, a person may opt to change to make the association between the two consonant aspects. Ideally, the moment dissonant element is behavior; the person may choose to get rid of the behavior or change it. This approach, however, in most cases remains a challenge to people as it is typically hard to change. Another approach to changing individual dissonance is acquiring of novel info, which continues to be more important than the dissonant beliefs; for instance, the perception that smoking lead to malignancy may result to dissonance if an individual smokes. Nevertheless, in the case of new info that shows that research studies have not proved this perception, then the dissonance may be reduced. One more approach to changing individual dissonance is a reduction of the cognitions significance. People could encourage each other that “there is no other life than the present life.” Therefore, this may lead to them exploiting whatsoever comes without care. Ideally, these people could opt to smoke, for instance, and have all sought of pleasure thus reducing the dissonant cognition significance (smoking cause cancer) (Chang, Solomon & Westerfield, 2016).

It is now clear that Leon Festinger’s CDT fails to prove that dissonance reduction approaches work. However, persons who are in this state will merely take steps in the reduction of their dissonance degree. In most occasions, dissonance theorists tend to articulate that a person will do whatsoever so as to lessen dissonance. Festinger’s CDT has been employed in numerous instances in order to develop the critical thought in more detail, as well as numerous elements, which have been acknowledged that mat remains vital in changing individual’s attitude (Wicklund & Brehm, 2013).


Holding two inconsistent thoughts does not substantially generate cognitive dissonance. A person may have to feel painful holding these inconsistent thoughts. Dissonance is habitually tough when individual suppose that something concerning themselves and after that performs something against what they believe. In case individuals believe that they are good but carry out something appalling, in that case, the uneasiness that they feel consequently is cognitive dissonance. Inconsistency between behaviors and beliefs is actually emphasized furthermore something have to change so as to get rid of or decrease the dissonance. This denotes that cognitive dissonance remains more distinct at the time of making hard decisions on ethical dilemmas. Consistent with Leon Festinger, experience as well remains a significant aspect of the creation of dissonance. In case people have experienced a negative event in life, they are liable to feel ingcognitive dissonance, discomfort, when that state replicates. This is for the reason that they anticipate feeling it once more. On the other hand, in the case of people by no means had encountered negativity in life, there will be no inner struggle. This is for the reason that they do not have the thought of what is going to take place. Again, Festinger did a research and experiments, which permitted him to conclude that the instance that persons may lessen cognitive dissonance by altering their decisions or views was unsupported by the effects. Persons are capable of reducing cognitive dissonance by altering either their behavior or opinion on the matter. Furthermore, they can reduce dissonance by just decreasing the significance of the aspects in question.


Chabrak, N., & Craig, R. (2013). Student imaginings, cognitive dissonance and critical thinking. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 24(2), 91-104.

Chang, T. Y., Solomon, D. H., & Westerfield, M. M. (2016). Looking for someone to blame: Delegation, cognitive dissonance, and the disposition effect. The Journal of Finance, 71(1), 267-302.

Cooper, J. (2011). Cognitive dissonance theory. Handbook of theories of social psychology, 1, 377-398.

Gawronski, B. (2012). Back to the future of dissonance theory: Cognitive consistency as a core motive. Social Cognition, 30(6), 652.

Harmon-Jones, E., & Harmon-Jones, C. (2012). Cognitive dissonance theory. Handbook of motivation science, 71.

Malle, B. F., Guglielmo, S., & Monroe, A. E. (2012). B lame is a moral judgment that has a cognitive and a social nature. We first focus on the cognitive side and introduce a theoretical model of blame. Social thinking and interpersonal behavior, 313.

Matthey, A., & Regner, T. (2011). Do I really want to know? A cognitive dissonance-based explanation of other-regarding behavior. Games, 2(1), 114-135.

Metin, I., & Camgoz, S. M. (2011). The advances in the history of cognitive dissonance theory. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 1(6), 131-136.

Murray, A. A., Wood, J. M., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2012). Psychopathic personality traits and cognitive dissonance: Individual differences in attitude change. Journal of research in personality, 46(5), 525-536.

Wicklund, R. A., & Brehm, J. W. (2013). Perspectives on cognitive dissonance. Psychology Press.

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