Humans generally strive for consistency in all areas of their lives, including their thoughts and actions. When we don't achieve that consistency, inner turmoil or cognitive dissonance is often the result. The theory of cognitive dissonance states that when a person's thoughts or beliefs do not align with their behavior, they will experience psychological turmoil. Holding two contradictory beliefs also results in cognitive dissonance. Although it sounds unpleasant, experiencing cognitive dissonance is not always a bad thing.
An American psychologist, Dr. Leon Festinger, postulated the theory of cognitive dissonance in the 1950s after he observed the life and failure of a cult. His theory was that humans need their actions to match their beliefs and thoughts. When this doesn't occur, discomfort motivates them to address the inconsistencies to bring back cognitive consonance or consistency. Dr. Festinger and his students at Stanford University conducted multiple laboratory experiments that supported his theories. Cognitive dissonance is still one of the most researched and influential theories in social psychology today.
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