Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Cognitive dissonance and motivation

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Cognitive dissonance and motivation:
What is the effect of cognitive dissonance on motivation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

We have a habit of distorting the facts until they become bearable for our own views

(Charlie Munger)

From time to time conflicting thoughts will appear, the way an individual deals with this ideology is of particular interest in todays world. Throughout this chapter the topic of cognitive dissonance and how motivation impacts this concept will be explored. Key theories, models and concepts to gain an overall insight into what cognitive dissonance is and why it occurs will be explored further. Furthermore, research into the brain activity will be explored, with case studies linked to the research to gain an overall better insight into the social psychology theory. Finally, the issue of how cognitive dissonance is effected by motivation will be covered, along with examining some possible methods for effective constancy.

Cognitive Dissonance Diagram
Focus Questions
  1. What is Cognitive Dissonance?
  2. What research has been conducted to understand cognitive dissonance?
  3. What are the findings for this research?
  4. Does Cognitive Dissonance link/ effect motivation?

What is cognitive dissonance?[edit | edit source]

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance occurs when an individual is faced with two conflicting beliefs. The two cognitions naturally cause a degree of psychological stress and tension until there is reduction in dissonance. The individual will always try to maintain a level of consistency with their attitudes and behaviour, therefore the individual will take part in reduction methods to justify their beliefs. This can come in the form of accepting the new belief (attitude change) or effort justification. This in turn will result in a level of consistency to relieve psychological stress.

Theoretical foundations of cognitive dissonance[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance 1957[edit | edit source]

The theory of cognitive dissonance was first developed by Leon Festinger in 1957. Festinger suggested that the existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable[awkward expression?], will motivate the person to try and reduce the dissonance and the person will likely avoid anything that fuels the dissonance (Festinger 1957). This in turn has generated a number of further theories, models and research to not only understand what the theory is, but how it works and the methods that individuals use to reach a state of consistency.

Action-based model of dissonance[edit | edit source]

The action based model of dissonance accepts the original theory of cognitive dissonance, and further investigates why two cognitions create a dissonance, and why dissonance reduction occurs. The action- based model proposes that inconsistency between two cognitions can make a person feel uncomfortable because inconstancy delays effective action (Harmon-Jones, 2007). The viewpoint then goes on to describe in further detail that cognitions are valuable because they [grammar?] guide an organism (Harmon-Jones, 2007). Following on from this, (Harmon-Jones, 2007) also highlighted that the dissonance can affect[grammar?] the translation of the decision, thus interfering with the effective action. In addition, further research on the model also suggests that dissonance reduction serves a function when executing a commitment which in turn may solve an unconflicted action (Harmon-Jones, 2007). The action-based model provides a beneficial framework in understanding how cognitive dissonance works and the underlying motivations for the psychological function. The need for consistency and resolving a conflict to make a decision are evident and consistent with findings on cognitive dissonance. Evolving from the original theory, the action based model extends the original theory and delves into why dissonance occurs.

Self perception theory:[edit | edit source]

Unlike Cognitive dissonance, where beliefs and attitudes are strong and the individual changes or alters their beliefs to reduce dissonance[grammar?], Self-Perception theory highlights individuals changing their belief through observation, when beliefs are not strong or developed (Reeve, 2018).

This theory deviates from Festinger's theory, as cognitive dissonance occurs when beliefs are solidified and set, Whereas when self perception theory occurs the individuals attitude, beliefs, and opinions are still developing, and attitudes are changed when presented or observed certain stimuli[grammar?].

Cognitive Dissonance Steps:
Dissonance-arousing situational events
Produces inconsistency between cognitions
Dissonance motivation
Dissonance-reduction strategy implemented
Dissonance reduced or eliminated

Based on Reeve (2018, Figure 9.6, p. 224)

Neurological research into cognitive dissonance:[edit | edit source]

Continual research and expansion of the original theory have generated valuable insight into why individuals experience cognitive dissonance. Although various theories, models and concepts have been generated, studies into the neural activity of cognitive dissonance have provided further insight. Although (Harmon-Jones, 2009) research delved into the action-based model of dissonance, research was also conducted in regards to neurology with brain areas in the anterior cingulate cortex and left prefrontal cortical found to play a part in conflict resolution associated with cognitive dissonance[grammar?].

Furthermore, this has generated fMRI studies have also delved into left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as well as the the anterior cingulate cortex. (MacDonald, 2000) found that the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was associated with less conflict due to it's[grammar?] control mechanisms. (Carter 1998 & Gehring, 1993) suggest that the anterior cingulate cortex is involved in monitoring the occurrence of errors in response to conflicts. With this research it it seems possible that dissonance activates the anterior cingulate cortex and in return the left prefrontal dorsolateral cortex activates a control mechanism to resolve dissonance (Coan, 2004).

(MacDonald, Cohen, Stenger, & Carter, 2000) findings supported their hypothesis that the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is involved “in the implementation of control, by representing and actively maintaining the attentional demands of the task” (p. 1837). It was also suggested that the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, should cause less conflict as it implements control. (MacDonald et al.)

(De Vries, 2015) also found that the ACC was involved in cognitive dissonance, with a study capturing a whole brain approach covering one experimental dissonance and three control conditions (justification, consonance, and non-self-related inconsistency. However this study found less activity in the prefrontal cortex, whereas previous studies differed. There was also increased activity in the anterior insula. Although in contrary to (De Vries, 2015), (Jarcho, 2011) found decreased activity in the anterior insula.

Other research has suggested that activity in the anterior cingulate cortex is involved in monitoring the occurrence of errors or the presence of response conflict (e.g., Carter, Braver, Barch, Botvinick, Noll, & Cohen, 1998; Gehring, Gross, Coles, Meyer, & Donchin, 1993)

This research provided provides valuable insight into the possible brain mechanisms behind cognitive dissonance. Much of the research found consistency with the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. However some discrepancies were found from study to study. Although this demonstrates valuable research highlighting key general areas of brain activity possibly responsible for cognitive dissonance.


Case studies of cognitive dissonance[edit | edit source]

Case studies have been conducted in variety of ways since the theory was first developed. This allows understanding of the methods of reducing dissonance when attitudes are challenged or not consistent with behavior. Examples of these case studies (below) include environmentally friendly attitudes correlation with behaviour and smokers attitudes and methods of rationalizing their behaviour. The study also found that when changes occurred in beliefs, changes occurred in behaviours.

Environmentally friendly behaviour (Schrems, 2020):[edit | edit source]

(Schrems, 2020) delved into the attitude-behavior gap of environmental behaviors and attitudes. This study looked into staff from a University in Germany whose professions where in the field of sustainability. The study covered results from air travel and their attitudes towards pro environmentalism. This study found significant cognitive dissonance and dissonance reduction strategies including denial of control, denial of responsibility, comparisons and compensation through benefits, all of which have been previously identified as typical responses to inner conflict (Schrems, 2020). This particular study is important as it not only covers the dissonance experienced from experts in regards to their behaviour, but the variety of justifications and rationalising to justify the behaviour.

Smoking TOB Control Survey:[edit | edit source]

Cognitive dissonance aims to achieve consistency by alleviating the unpleasant stimuli (dissonance) when new information is presented. This is heavily documented especially with smoking behaviours. (Fotuhi, 2013) delves into the The International Tobacco Control Policy Four Country Survey which conducted a study on the attitudes of smokers from Canada, USA, UK and Australia. The results of from this survey found that smokers who had not previously[spelling?] tried to quit had the highest tendencies[spelling?] to rationalise[spelling?] the behaviour[spelling?], whereas those who had quit did not. And to further add the smokers who had quit and then picked up smoking again, fell back into their rationalising habits. This again demonstrates various reduction strategies highlighted in previous research to maintain some standard of consistency.

Cognitive Dissonance Chart

Cognitive dissonance and motivation?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Intrinsic Motivation:[edit | edit source]

Intrinsic motivation is defined as the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence (Ryan, 2000). It is vital to cover intrinsic motivation when discussing cognitive dissonances effect of motivation. As stated above, cognitive dissonance is when an individual is presented with new information that contradicts their beliefs and creates two cognitions inconsistent. (Deci, 1975) delved into the effects of insufficient justification on intrinsic motivation. (Deci, 1975) argues that in respect to self determination, individuals are inclined to face a challenge. However if they fail or are refrained from doing something they like the 'incongruity' grows and becomes dissonance. Demonstrating that failed challenges or inducing someone to lie could create dissonance which in term creates dissonance[grammar?]. Therefore intrinsically motivations not met, can cause dissonance.

Consistency Vs. Dissonance:[edit | edit source]

When discussing cognitive dissonance's effect on motivation, there are two aspects that should be covered. Firstly the consistency is what the individual strives to be, with consistency being the analysis of the individual where they believe their actions are competent and moral. However the other side is the dissonance which suggest the person does not think they are moral or competent (Reeve, 2018). Although dissonance could lead to consistency occurring, the dissonance will either allow the individual to change their behaviours or readjust them (cognitive dissonance).

Pros and cons of cognitive dissonance:[edit | edit source]

As stated initially in (Festinger, 1957) a person will try and reduce the dissonance. However,this may not be the right motivation technique. Although reducing the dissonance may alleviate unformattable psychological stress, it may to a disservice to the cognition that is most beneficial; e.g. smoking or weight loss avoidance. However, it could be a beneficial motivational instinct as it directs someone to clear the dissonance, therefore motivating a person.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance is a widely discussed[spelling?] topic within the field of social psychology and has certainly propelled a plethora of research to extend the understanding of the process[vague]. Research has included multiple theories such as as the action-based model of dissonance which aims to answer why dissonance and dissonance reduction occurs, the self perception theory which takes the opposite angle of Festinger's theory, and discussing attitudes changed with observational learning[grammar?]. Additionally the emerging research taking place delving into the neuroscience behind the theory[grammar?]. Furthermore case studies have also demonstrated what cognitive dissonance is first hand, whether it was attitudes towards health risk such as smoking or even professionals displaying cognitive distance in the form of air travel of sustainability professors[grammar?].

All in all cognitive dissonance has an immense effect on motivation[vague]. The motivation to reduce dissonance is the most important take away. It demonstrates that an individual can be motivated [missing something?]to reduce an uneasy feeling, whether it is beneficial long term or not. Cognitive dissonance can also show some benefits to motivation, as the uneasy feeling known as dissonance could force a behaviour change to benefit individuals, especially in cases such as smoking, weight loss or environmental behaviour.

See also[edit | edit source]

Cognitive dissonance

References[edit | edit source]

Bem, D. (1972). Self perception theory. Advances in experimental social psychology, 6, 2-57. Available at:

Buckley, T. (2015). What Happens to the Brain During Cognitive Dissonance. Scientific American. Available at:

Carter, C.S., Braver, T.S., Barch, D.M., Botvinick, M.M., Noll, D., & Cohen, J.D. (1998). Anterior cingulate cortex, error detection, and the online monitoring of performance. Science, 280, 747–749

Coan, J.A., & Allen, J.J.B. (2004). Frontal EEG asymmetry as a moderator and mediator of emotion. Biological Psychology, 67, 7–50.

Deci, E.L. (1975). Cognitive dissonance theory: effects of insufficient justification on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation. Available at:

de Vries, J, Byrne, M & Kehoe, E. (2015). Cognitive dissonance induction in everyday life: an fMRI study. Social Neuroscience, 10:3, 268-281. Available at:

Festinger, L (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Available at:

Festinger L. (1962). Cognitive dissonance. Scientific American, 207(4), 93-106. Available at:

Fotuhi, O, et al. (2012). Patterns of cognitive dissonance-reducing beliefs among smokers: a longitudinal analysis from the international tobacco control (ITC) four country survey. Tob Control, 22(1): 52–58. Available at:

Gehring, W.J., Goss, B., Coles, M.G.H., Meyer, D.E., & Donchin, E. (1993). A neural system for error detection and compensation. Psychological Science, 4, 385–390.

Harmon-Jones, E & Harmon Jones, C (2007). Cognitive dissonance theory after 50 years of development. Zeitschrift für sozialpsychologie, 38 (1), 7–16. Available at:

Harmon-Jones, E, Amodio, M & Harmon-Jones, C. (2009). Chapter 3 Action‐Based Model of Dissonance: A Review, Integration, and Expansion of Conceptions of Cognitive Conflict. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 119-166. Available at:,cognitions%20have%20conflicting%20action%20tendencies.

Jarcho, J.M., Berkman, E.T. & Lieberman M.D. (2010). The neural basis of rationalization: cognitive dissonance reduction during decision-making. Social cognition and affective neuroscience. 6(4), Pages 460–467. Available at:

Klein, J & McColl, G. (2019). Cognitive dissonance: how self-protective distortions can undermine clinical judgement. Medical Education 2019: 53 1178–1186. Available at:

MacDonald, A.W., Cohen, J.D., Stenger, A.V. & Carter, C.S. (2000). Dissociating the role of the dorsolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex in cognitive control. Science, 288(5472) 1835-1838 Available at: 10.1126/science.288.5472.1835

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding motivation and emotion, 7.

Snyder, M & Ebbeson, E.B. (1972). Dissonance awareness: A test of dissonance theory versus self-perception theory. Journal of Experimental social psychology, 8(6), 502-517. Available at:

Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25, 54–67. Available at:,+Deci+00.pdf

Schrems, I & Upham, P. (2020). Cognitive Dissonance in sustainability scientists regarding air travel for academic purposes: A qualitative study. Sustainability 2020, 12(5). Available at:

External links[edit | edit source]