Consonant and Dissonant Cognitions

Define consonant and dissonant cognitions:

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Leon Festinger developed the theory of cognitive dissonance based on the “relationships among cognitions” (Rudolph, A cognition is described as a “piece of knowledge” which may be a certain behavior, a value, an emotion or an attitude, according to Frederick M. Rudolph at Ithaca College in New York State. (Dissonance is defined simply as a state of conflict, tension or disagreement.) Meanwhile, a typical cognition could be just the fact that a person prefers the color blue; the knowledge that blue is a favorite color is a cognition. The knowledge that a person just caught a long pass for a first down in a football game is another cognition and the knowledge that the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people in the “Citizens United” case is another cognition. In other words, a neighbor has a cognition (i.e., is cognizant of the fact) that his neighborhood is a drug dealing zone; and the mother of a down syndrome child has a cognition (is cognizant of the fact) that her child is intellectually disabled.

A person may have several cognitions at the same exact time and Rudolph explains that these cognitions “…form irrelevant, consonant or dissonant relationships with one another” (p. 2). Two cognitions are dissonant if “one cognition follows from the opposite of another”; and moreover, an individual with dissonant cognitions is “…said to be in a state of psychological dissonance…[an] unpleasant psychological tension” (Rudolph, p. 1). Professor Nico Frijda explains that “…dissonant relations between cognitions” are potentially the cause of “negative affect[s]” and that provides motivation for a person to try and “…reduce or eliminate the discrepancies between cognitions” (Frijda, 2000, p. 186).

A consonant dissonance (consonant literally means being in agreement with something) or cognitive dissonance as it is often referred to, tends to lead the person towards a reduction of dissonance. When dissonance occurs, the person will use certain “pressures to reduce it,” according to Festinger (Festinger, 1957, p. 3). In that case, the person who experiences dissonance will be motivated “ try and reduce dissonance and achieve consonance” (Festinger, p. 3).

TWO: analyze the influence that consonant and dissonant cognitions have on attitudes and behavior: Dissonance becomes apparent when two cognitions “…generate mutually incompatible behavior dispositions,” Frijda writes on page 188. Two incompatible behaviors could be the tendency to both avoid and approach the same object: an alcoholic experiences dissonant cognitions when he sees a vodka drink being poured by a bartender; he remembers how good the taste of alcohol was and yet he knows he can’t go back to his days as a lush.

Author Bertram Gawronski explains that when a dieter (trying hard to lose weight) polishes off a “fattening meal, he would likely be in a state of dissonance” because his cognitions as to his recent behaviors “…are most resistant to change” (Gawronski, 2012, p. 48). The dieter’s rationalizations after the meal include cognitions consonant with the recent behaviors and attitudes, Gawronski explains (48).

In his book Festinger explains that hunger, frustration, or “disequilibrium” are considered as being linked to dissonance. And “cognitive dissonance can be seen as an antecedent condition which leads to activity oriented toward dissonance reduction” (3). In fact in the case of hunger, which leads to certain activities directed toward finding and eating food, the behavior in psychological parlance is actually called “dissonance reduction” (Festinger, 3).

In conclusion, when two relevant cognitions (“elements of knowledge) are not consistent with one another, or are at odds in some way with each other, there exists the potential for dissonance, and uncomfortable situation which causes negative attitudes. Consonant cognitions are psychologically consistent with “generative cognition” (generative means capable of producing something) and dissonant cognitions are psychologically inconsistent with generative cognition.

Works Cited

Festinger, Leon. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University


Frijda, Nico H., Manstead, S.R., and Bern, Sacha. (2000). Emotions and Beliefs: How Feelings

Influence Thoughts. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Gawronski, Bertram. (2012). Cognitive Consistency: A Fundamental Principle in Social

Cognition. New York: Guilford Press.

Rudolph, Frederick M. (2004). General Experimental Psychology Cognitive Dissonance Lab /

The theory of cognitive dissonance. Ithaca College. Retrieved October 25, 2012, from