What is cognitive dissonance? Definition and theory

What is cognitive dissonance? Definition and theory


When an individual acts in contradiction with his own cognitions, he finds himself in an uncomfortable or even painful psychological state. This is called cognitive dissonance. Individuals then seek to limit this internal conflict by finding justifications for their behavior. Anchored in everyone’s daily life, it also takes place in the field of marketing where it is essential to master this concept well so as not to interfere with the act of purchasing.

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Here is the theory of cognitive dissonance, with its principles and its impact in marketing strategies.

The theory of cognitive dissonance

By nature, the human being is a being of contradiction. The theory of cognitive dissonance is based on the perpetual search for consistency between expectations and actions.

It should be known that cognitive dissonance can be considered as a motivational state. That is to say that the more an individual feels it, the more he will try to fight and reduce it to find an internal cognitive balance.

This is why several paradigms emerge from cognitive dissonance.

The paradox of choice

Making a choice naturally leads to cognitive dissonance since it leads to renouncing the advantages of the unsuccessful alternative.

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When a person freely chooses an option, he adapts his cognitions according to his choice. The more the two alternatives have common characteristics and are attractive, the greater the dissonance.

In this case, the reduction in cognitive dissonance leads to a justification of the choice made, either by overestimating the decision made or by denigrating the other choice. The individual seeks at all costs to avoid possible arguments which could then call his choice into question.

The paradigm of forced submission

This paradigm, also called the induced submission paradigm, marks a cognitive dissonance when an individual is made to perform an action that they would not otherwise have done.

His change of attitude is, in general, caused by a strong ban or a reward. The higher the retribution or deprivation, the more the subject will find external reasons to justify his act. On the contrary, if the reward or prohibition is low, the individual has no other choice but to explain his behavior by internal beliefs to reduce the dissonance.

The Belief Disposition Paradigm

Here, cognitive dissonance does not occur following the performance of problematic behavior, as it does in other paradigms. It awakens when the individual is exposed, forced or unexpectedly, to information that is not consistent with his beliefs.

Thus, when a belief is contradicted, instead of renouncing it, the individual tends to reinterpret and reinforce it in order to find a justification. He will therefore want to look for groups of people who share his opinion. This is particularly the case within sects or within the framework of proselytism.

Cognitive rationalization

Having two opposing cognitions that coexist naturally leads to cognitive conflict. To deal with cognitive dissonance, the individual tends to want to rationalize his behavior rather than change it. He then begins to seek consistency between his actions, his attitudes and his beliefs.

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It is through this process of rationalization that the individual operates an adjustment of his thoughts to make them consonant. To do this, it will reduce the gap between initial cognition and generating cognition. This makes it possible to find an inner balance.

Cognitive dissonance and marketing

In a marketing context, the consumer is in cognitive dissonance when he feels a psychological discomfort following a purchase or advertisement.

For example, when he buys a product that contradicts his values ​​or beliefs, the dissonance can be expressed by a feeling of regret or resentment towards the brand. It is then a question of post-purchase dissonance. Companies therefore have every interest in taking it into account, particularly when it comes to loyalty issues. A customer who is satisfied with his purchase will naturally return to the brand to place other orders for products or services.

Even if it is often negative, cognitive dissonance, if used well, can become a lever in the act of buying. It is important to reassure consumers in their purchasing decision by implementing targeted actions in their journey. We must facilitate the search for evidence that the individual can do post-purchase, so that he feels in consonance and involve him in a positive purchasing cycle. This means, for example, sending messages after the purchase or a welcome kit to reinforce and flatter his decision. But also by offering quality customer service, attentive.

The consumer should absolutely feel that he made the right decision in purchasing the product or service. We must therefore reduce friction, whether emotional or experiential.

In an advertising campaign, cognitive dissonance occurs when a message is contrary to the beliefs of the consumer. The latter then avoids confronting the advertisement, does not memorize it or calls into question the argument.

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If a marketing discourse causes cognitive dissonance, the consumer will simply use ploys to reduce it. This involves, in particular, a rejection of information. He will therefore not be convinced by the brand’s product or service and the sale will not be successful. Rather than trying to directly counter this phenomenon, it is better to raise awareness.

The consumer can also be brought to be impacted by the means of rationalization to justify his behavior and reduce his cognitive dissonance. This can be the case when a customer is evaluating a product or service. He can then overestimate his purchase, in order to convince himself that he made the right decision.

It is therefore essential to take into account the beliefs of prospects and customers so as not to provoke cognitive dissonance in them. We have to find the sources of tension and the dissonant triggers. To do this, it is essential to know your targets well. This is what the study of buyers persona will be used for. You have to succeed in understanding consumer behavior, putting yourself in their shoes by appropriating their state of mind and their expectations. It is also recommended to avoid stigmatizing the public, which leads to an immediate rejection of the information (as is the case with road safety or tobacco prevention campaigns).

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