- A major cognitive theory propounded by in A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957). The theory addresses competing, contradictory, or opposing elements of cognition and behaviour: for example, why do people continue smoking, when they know that smoking damages health? Festinger suggests that individuals do not believe so much out of logic as out of psychological need-a kind of psycho-logic. He argues that, striving for harmony and balance, there is a drive towards consonance amongst cognitions. Dissonance reduction may happen either through a change in a person's behaviour or a shift in attitude; thus, in the example cited above, either they stop smoking, or else modify their knowledge, for example to the belief that ‘most people who smoke don't die young and so aren't really at risk’. The theory is almost tautological in postulating some inner need for consistency, and has been criticized for ambiguity, but it has been enormously influential. See also cognitive theory.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.
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