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Cognitive Dissonance Theory on Customer Behaviour

Figure 1

Laurel Canyon Social Network

Note: Reflect on consumerist society. [Painting] (Alex Gross, 2017)

In marketing, one of the most widely studied concepts is consumer behaviour since its knowledge immensely supports the company to plan and also implement marketing strategies. By having a better understanding of the elements shaping consumer behaviour, marketers are able to have a better position to estimate how consumers will respond to these strategies. Hence, marketers and psychologists examine consumers' attitudes and responses resulting in purchases in terms of their beliefs, tendencies and feelings. In that sense, the cognitive dissonance theory is a phenomenon related to attitude change and therefore it is quite significant to understand.

What is the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance?

In 1959, Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith carried out an experiment by asking the participants to execute boring tasks, such as repeatedly turning pegs for an hour. Half of the participants were paid $20 (first group) for an hour of boring tasks while the others were paid $1 (second group). Then, some participants were demanded to convince a reluctant person (in fact, secretly a confederate) to be a participant in the experiment by lying that the tasks were super fun.

Festinger and Carlsmith claim that the participants experienced dissonance when they had the conflicting cognitions: telling someone that the tasks were super fun and interesting while the truth was the opposite. As a result, the participants who were paid $20 were less successful in convincing the reluctant person than the ones who were paid $1. Because the first group captured money ($20) as their primary justification while the others had to find other justifications to rationalize their own judgments by literally convincing themselves first that the tasks were fun and interesting.

Figure 2

Festinger's 1$/$20 Experiment: Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance

Note: A scene from Festinger's dissonance experiment. (Festinger, 1959). *Please excuse the quality, as this is an image from a video recorded in the 1950s.

It is concluded that when there is a discrepancy between our current belief and another, previously held belief, one must eliminate the other to reduce dissonance. These attitude, judgment, decision and evaluation changes are quite important for marketers as they are able to spot factors creating dissonance and reduce them. It is claimed that dissonance can occur in three ways: First, any logical inconsistency can create dissonance. Second, dissonance can be created when a person experiences an inconsistency either between his attitude and his behaviour or between two of his behaviours. Third, dissonance can occur when a strongly held expectation is disconfirmed. (Loudon and Della Bitta, 2002, as cited in Sharma, 2014, p. 837).

Why is it important for marketers?

It is important in not only acquiring new consumers, but also retaining the existing ones by satisfying their expectations and providing value as a positive brand image, which is a crucial role for marketers. In order to implement a successful strategy for both new and existing consumers, marketers first must fully understand the factors leading them to make the purchase. This is where the cognitive dissonance theory takes part.

Figure 3

Games of our Brain

Note: Image from an article by Colin Lewis (2020)

For example, a person who is experiencing a conflict between his beliefs and behaviours might be open to being 'the new consumer' for a company.

  • He has great compassion for all animals.

  • He is eating meat every dinner.

The more the conflict forms dissonance, the quicker the person finds a way to eliminate or minimalize it. He has two options: he is either going to be a vegetarian or eat less meat at dinner, which means that his product choices will shift to vegetarian/vegan products. Hence, the purchasing decisions being shaped by consumers' dissonances arises because of the conflicts between beliefs, emotions, attitudes, tendencies etc.

While consumer behaviour is the key to building and implementing a successful marketing strategy, the cognitive dissonance theory is one of the most important attributes of consumer behaviour itself in terms of attitude and belief changes on products or brands. By removing consumers' dissonances, marketers are able to not only acquire new or retain the existing consumers, but also create a positive brand image for their organization. Therefore, all marketers must fully comprehend how cognitive dissonance results in changes and how it can be used for the benefit of the company.


Auster, D. (1965). Attitude Change and Cognitive Dissonance. Journal of Marketing Research, 2(4), 401–405.

Festinger, L. (1962). Cognitive Dissonance. Scientific American, 207(4), 93–106.

Oshikawa, S. (1969). Can Cognitive Dissonance Theory Explain Consumer Behavior? Journal of Marketing, 33(4), 44–49.

Sharma, Manoj Kumar. (2014). The Impact on Consumer Buying Behaviour: Cognitive Dissonance. Global Journal of Finance and Management. Volume 6, Number 9. Research India Publications. Retrieved from

Image Resources

Gross, Alex. (2017). Laurel Canyon Social Network. [Painting] Retrieved from

Festinger, Leon. (1959). Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance. [Photo] Retrieved from

Lewis, Colin. (2020). Games of our Brain. [Image] Retrieved from


Author Photo

Melis Güven

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