Cognitive dissonance


Festinger first developed this theory in the 1950s to explain how members of a cult who were persuaded by their leader, a certain Mrs Keech, that the earth was going to be destroyed on 21st December and that they alone were going to be rescued by aliens, actually increased their commitment to the cult when this did not happen (Festinger himself had infiltrated the cult, and would have been very surprised to meet little green men). The dissonance of the thought of being so stupid was so great that instead they revised their beliefs to meet with obvious facts: that the aliens had, through their concern for the cult, saved the world instead.

In a more mundane experiment, Festinger and Carlsmith got students to lie about a boring task. Those who were paid $1 for the task felt uncomfortable lying.


This is the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.

Dissonance increases with:

  • The importance of the subject to us.
  • How strongly the dissonant thoughts conflict.
  • Our inability to rationalize and explain away the conflict.

Cognitive Dissonance

I’ve heard the CD phrase being employed for many years in Comments and Notes at B&W. See: following examples. It’s a learning curve trying to understand the technicalities behind CD. It’s a phrase of such a strong and emotional nature.

Wall? What wall? Do you see a wall? – Butterflies and Wheels 4 Aug 2010

Walker’s crowning achievement | Butterflies and Wheels 17 Sep 2012

Anatomy of a bully is it | Butterflies and Wheels 10 Sep 2012 –  

Leeds Skeptics in the Pub reach out to women | Butterflies and Wheels 7 Jul 2012 –


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