Attitudes, Values & Job Satisfaction

What causes cognitive dissonance?

What causes cognitive dissonance?

  1. Forced Compliance Behavior,
  2. Decision Making,
  3. Effort.

 Forced Compliance Behaviour

When someone is forced to do (publicly) something they (privately) really don’t want to do, dissonance is created between their cognition (I didn’t want to do this) and their behavior (I did it).

Forced compliance occurs when an individual performs an action that is inconsistent with his or her beliefs. The behavior can’t be changed, since it was already in the past, so dissonance will need to be reduced by re-evaluating their attitude to what they have done. This prediction has been tested experimentally:

Decision Making

Life is filled with decisions, and decisions (as a general rule) arouse dissonance.

For example, suppose you had to decide whether to accept a job in an absolutely beautiful area of the country, or turn down the job so you could be near your friends and family. Either way, you would experience dissonance. If you took the job you would miss your loved ones; if you turned the job down, you would pine for the beautiful streams, mountains, and valleys.

Both alternatives have their good points and bad points. The rub is that making a decision cuts off the possibility that you can enjoy the advantages of the unchosen alternative, yet it assures you that you must accept the disadvantages of the chosen alternative.

People have several ways to reduce dissonance that is aroused by making a decision (Festinger, 1964). One thing they can do is to change the behavior. As noted earlier, this is often very difficult, so people frequently employ a variety of mental maneuvers. A common way to reduce dissonance is to increase the attractiveness of the chosen alternative and to decrease the attractiveness of the rejected alternative. This is referred to as “spreading apart the alternatives.”


It also seems to be the case that we value most highly those goals or items which have required considerable effort to achieve.

This is probably because dissonance would be caused if we spent a great effort to achieve something and then evaluated it negatively. We could, of course, spend years of effort into achieving something which turns out to be a load of rubbish and then, in order to avoid the dissonance that produces, try to convince ourselves that we didn’t really spend years of effort, or that the effort was really quite enjoyable, or that it wasn’t really a lot of effort.

In fact, though, it seems we find it easier to persuade ourselves that what we have achieved is worthwhile and that’s what most of us do, evaluating highly something whose achievement has cost us dear – whether other people think it’s much cop or not! This method of reducing dissonance is known as ‘effort justification.’

If we put effort into a task which we have chosen to carry out, and the task turns out badly, we experience dissonance. To reduce this dissonance, we are motivated to try to think that the task turned out well.


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Organizational Behavior by Icfai Business School is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.