Cognitive Dissonance Effects on Attitudes and Behavior

Since cognitive dissonance theory was first proposed in 1957, psychologists have carried out number of studies to determine the relationship between human behavior and attitudes. They also aim at determining whether behavior has an impact on attitude change. The contradicting findings by Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith (1959) and those developed Daryl Bem (1967) are important in discussing the concept of cognitive dissonance and its impact on attitudes and behavior.

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In the study ‘Cognitive Consequences of forced Compliance’, Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) attempted to show that human attitude is subjected to change due to a contradiction between a person’s behavior and the true attitudes towards a phenomenon. To test this theory, the two psychologists carried out a research with adult respondents who were asked to spend several hours doing boring tasks such as revolving a wooden peg. After this, they were told to say that the task was enjoyable, yet it was a lie. One group of the respondents was given $20 to lie, while another was given only $1 to tell the same lie. The researchers then interviewed the respondents to determine the impact of behavior change on attitudes. The results indicated that the respondents who were given $1 differed in their feelings from those who received the $20 for telling the same lie. It was found that the participants who obtained $1 for telling a lie developed a psychological tension because of performing a behavior (telling a lie) that contradicted with their actual attitudes towards the behavior (they were bored by the experiment). From these results, the two researchers argue that there is a substantial evidence to support the hypothesis that human attitudes are prone to change due to a contradiction between an action and the true attitudes towards a given phenomenon.

On the other hand, the research by Daryl Bem (1967) seeks to contradict the findings by Festinger and Carlsmith (1959). In order to test his theory called ‘the self perception theory’, Bem developed a study through which he used to prove the hypothesis that when people are not sure of their attitudes, they tend to examine the behavior in order to find out their true attitude. In this study, Bem (1967) argues that psychological tension does not necessarily result from a consequence of the contradictions between the actions and the true attitudes. Secondly, he argues that the self-perception theory is effective in explaining the change in attitude.

Relation of the findings to the concept of persuasion

Persuasion is the psychological impact of intentions, behaviors, beliefs or motivations to a person or group. This concept describes persuasion as a process that aims at changing the attitude of an individual or a group of individuals towards a given phenomenon, an idea, an event or another person. This change must occur with spoken words to provide information, reasoning and a set of feelings or a combination of these.

In relation to the theories of cognitive dissonance and the self-perception theory, persuasion concept could be used to explain why the behavior changes with attitudes. In this way, scholars will release the tension created by the proponents of the two theories. With the concept, it is possible to observe that the change in behavior occurs because of the application of information to provide motivation or beliefs. This results into a change in the behavior because the person has been subjected to additional information that motivates or drives a change in his perceptions, which in turn causes a change in his attitude and behavior.


Bem, D. J. (1967). Self perception: An alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychological review, 2(3).

Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. The journal of abnormal and social psychology, 58, 123-146

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