Persuasion header image
The Nature of Attitudes and Persuasion

The Yale Approach

Congruity Theory

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Social Judgment/ Involvement Theory

Information Integration Theory

Theory of Reasoned Action

Elaboration Likelihood Model


Congruity Theory

Congruity Theory - Overview 
Heider's Balance Theory
Osgood and Tannenbaum's Congruity Theory
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Congruity Theory
Figure 1

Congruity Theory -  Overview
All Consistency Theories are about the relationship of the thoughts or ideas (“cognitions”) in a person’s mind. The basic idea is that people prefer harmony, or consistency, in their thoughts. Furthermore, consistency theories hold that when we have inconsistent thoughts, this inconsistency (also called imbalance or incongruity) motivates us to change our thoughts to restore consistency. For example, if I really like Michael Jordan, and if I learn that he strongly endorses Nike athletic shoes (by watching a commercial, for example), then it is easier or simpler for me if I like Nike shoes too: I like Mike, Mike likes Nike, I like Nike. Consistent thoughts like these are usually easier than trying to figure out why I don’t like something that my basketball hero likes. I can rationalize disagreements with Michael Jordan, but it is easier if I don’t have to do so. Inconsistent cognitions often, but not always, lead to attitude change.

Persuasive messages, in general, try to persuade us to change our minds or our attitudes (at times they also may try to strengthen or reinforce our existing attitudes). When a message disagrees with us (tries to persuade us to change our minds), there is discrepancy, or a difference, or an inconsistency, between the message’s position and our attitudes. If there is a reason to like or agree with the message (liking for the source of a message, for instance), that can translate into pressure or motivation to change our attitude, to bring it in line with the message. Consistency theories are designed to understand how and when inconsistencies in our thoughts (“I like Michael Jordan,” “Michael Jordan likes Nike shoes,” “I don’t like Nike shoes”) lead to attitude change (“Maybe Nike shoes are better than I thought”).

Congruity Theory is one of the Consistency Theories of attitude change. It was developed by Charles Osgood and Percy Tannenbaum to improve on the first consistency theory, Fritz Heider’s Balance Theory. In order to understand what Congruity Theory was trying to do, Heider’s Balance Theory will be described before moving on to explain Osgood and Tannenbaum’s Congruity Theory.

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