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


Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Cognitive Dissonance Theory - Overview
Dissonance After Decision-Making
Selective Exposure To Information
Induced Compliance
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Dissonance Theory


Strengths and Weaknesses of the Dissonance Theory
This theory has stimulated a great deal of discussion: It has implications for a variety of situations. It makes predictions about whether people will seek information (selective exposure). It makes predictions about human thought and behavior after making a decision (post-decisional dissonance). It has implications for persuasion as well as the specific form of persuasion called induced compliance. Cognitive Dissonance Theory is a very wide-ranging theory.

Second, Dissonance theory has generated literally hundreds of studies. Although it is not always supported (for example, curiosity might interfere with the selective exposure effect), there is no question that this theory has strong research support.

One important limitation is that dissonance theory makes no predictions about how dissonance will be reduced. It lists several options for reducing cognitive dissonance (add consonant cognitions, change dissonant cognitions, alter the importance of cognitions), but surely persuaders want dissonance to be resolved in a way that furthers their goals. If I try to induce dissonance in my girlfriend to get her to go to a movie with me, I don’t want her to change her attitude toward me (like me less) to reduce that dissonance!  The fact that it does not make specific predictions, like
Social Judgment Theory, means that we should qualify the statement on experimental support for this theory. A theory that makes specific predictions can be subjected to stronger tests than vague theories. If the research on Dissonance Theory had been able to test specific predictions, the empirical support for this theory might be stronger than it is.

It seems likely that some people can tolerate dissonance more than others. Some individuals may be more mentally “tidy,” while others may be willing to put up with some inconsistency in their thoughts. Dissonance theory does not take into account such possible individual differences (actually, this limitation applies to all consistency theories).

Another limitation common to all consistency theories is that Dissonance Theory does not consider the nature of the persuasive message. Surely some messages (those with evidence, for example, or with arguments that are more relevant to the audience) are capable of creating more dissonance; other, weaker messages probably evoke less dissonance. However, Dissonance theory ignores the effects of message variables on cognitive dissonance and persuasion.

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