Theory - Overview
and Tannenbaum's Congruity Theory
and Weaknesses of the Congruity Theory
Heider's Balance Theory
depicts relationships among our thoughts -- like
Michael Jordan and Nike shoes -- in a triangle, with the
Person (or perceiver) at the top, the Other person on the
bottom left, and the attitude object (X) on the bottom right.
Heider represents the relationships between these three
elements with plus or minus signs. He declares that balanced
triads have an odd number of plus signs and are more pleasant;
imbalanced triads have an odd number of minus signs and are
unpleasant, encouraging us to change one of our thoughts to
make the triad balanced. In Figure 1, the top row of triads
(1-4) are balanced, while the bottom row (5-8) are imbalanced.
For example, if I didnít like Nike shoes, but I like Michael
Jordan and I know that he endorses Nike shoes, those
relationships fit triad number 6. I am P, Jordan is O, and
Nike shoes are the X. The thought or cognition ďI like
JordanĒ is represented by a plus sign between P and O.
Jordanís endorsement of Nike shoes is shown by the plus sign
between O and X. My current attitude toward Nike shoes (ďI
donít like Nike shoesĒ) is represented by a minus sign
between me (P) and Nike (X). Heiderís theory predicts that I
would feel uncomfortable when I realized the imbalance between
these three elements: If I like Jordan so much (P + O), and he
thinks Nike shoes are great (O + X), then why donít I like
Nike shoes (P - X)? Balance
theory predicts that I would change one of my attitudes to
restore the imbalance. If I change my attitude toward Nike
shoes from a minus (unfavorable attitude: P - X) to a
plus (favorable attitude: P + X), then my new set of
relations conform to triad 1, which is (now) balanced.
There are other changes I could make to restore balance. For
example, I could decide that I was wrong to like Michael
Jordan (changing P + O to P - O), which would place me
into triad 4, a different balanced triad. Of course, Nike
hopes that isnít the reaction I will have. Or, I could
decide (perhaps fooling myself) that Jordan doesnít really
like Nike shoes, perhaps thinking he only made the commercial
for money (changing O + X to O - X, which would be triad 2,
another, different, balanced triad).
The Jordan/Nike example is about a message (a commercial
endorsement). However, Heiderís Balance Theory is not
limited to imbalance caused by persuasive messages like
commercials. For example, a person who experienced these
thoughts would probably experience imbalance: I love my wife
(P + O), My wife wants to live in Minneapolis (O + X), I donít want to live in Minneapolis
because it is too cold (P - X). So, Heiderís theory concerns
any cognitions that appear relevant to the Perceiver.
One simple advantage is that Balance Theory recognizes that
people sometimes notice inconsistent cognitions and that this
inconsistency can lead to attitude change. We donít compare
every thought we have to every other thought, so at times we
can have inconsistent cognitions and not realize it. However,
when we are aware of inconsistency, that imbalance can lead to
attitude change. Heider was the first scholar to realize this
and develop a theory to help explain it.
Research has investigated Balance Theory (see Cacioppo &
1968). This research provides mixed support for this theory.
In general, it does a fairly good job predicting how people
will react to imbalanced and balanced situations. However, one
consistent problem is that the predictions donít work very
well when P doesnít like O (triads 3, 4, 7, and 8).
Apparently, if I donít like Jordan, I donít really care
whether he likes Nike or not. So, this theory was a simple
starting point, but most theorists and researchers were not
satisfied with it.
One very important limitation is that Balance theory makes no
prediction about how imbalance will be resolved. Nike, of
course, wants me to change my attitude toward their shoes from
negative to positive. This would change triad 6 to triad 1.
However, as noted earlier, there are at least two other
changes I could make to restore balance. I could decide that I
donít like Michael Jordan, which would change triad 6 into
triad 4, another balanced triad. Or, I could decide that Jordan doesnít really like Nike shoes, which would create triad 2, yet
another balanced triad. Balance theory predicts that imbalance
is unpleasant and that I probably will do something to restore
balance -- but it canít predict which thoughts or cognitions
I will change. Congruity Theory was designed to correct some
of these limitations (no consistency theory considers message
content, or strength of endorsement).
A third limitation of Balance Theory is that it ignores
message content (like every consistency theory). For example
we could predict that if Michael Jordan gave some evidence or
arguments about the advantages of Nike shoes, his endorsement
might be even more effective. He could also vary the strength
of the endorsement, from something like ďI guess Nike shoes
are pretty good, and I wear them sometimesĒ to ďNike shoes
are the greatest! I
only wear Nike.Ē But
Balance Theory doesnít acknowledge that some endorsements
might be more effective than others. In other words, it
ignores content of the persuasive message.
A fourth limitation is that Balance Theory does not quantify
any of the three relationships (PO,
OX, PX). The only options are plus (favorable attitude or
liking) and minus (unfavorable attitude or dislike). It stands
to reason that if I like Michael Jordan a lot there will be
more imbalance than if I only like him a little. More
imbalance should translate into more pressure for me to change
my attitude toward Nike shoes. However, Balance Theory does
not include degree of liking, only direction (plus or minus,
favorable or unfavorable, like or dislike).
Finally, people are not equally persuasive on all topics. For
example, Michael Jordan would probably be more effective
endorsing athletic shoes than computers. Cindy Crawford might
have more persuasive effects when we believe she likes a
certain brand of make-up or clothes than if she comments
favorably on a mutual fund. However, Balance Theory assumes
that all people will create the same amount of imbalance.