Cognitive dissonance is a very powerful motivator which will often lead us to change one or other of the conflicting belief or action. The discomfort often feels like a tension between the two opposing thoughts. To release the tension we can take one of three actions:
Change our behavior.
Justify our behavior by changing the conflicting cognition.
Justify our behavior by adding new cognitions.
Dissonance is most powerful when it is about our self-image. Feelings of foolishness, immorality and so on (including internal projections during decision-making) are dissonance in action.
If an action has been completed and cannot be undone, then the after-the-fact dissonance compels us to change our beliefs. If beliefs are moved, then the dissonance appears during decision-making, forcing us to take actions we would not have taken before.
Cognitive dissonance appears in virtually all evaluations and decisions and is the central mechanism by which we experience new differences in the world. When we see other people behave differently to our images of them, when we hold any conflicting thoughts, we experience dissonance.
Dissonance increases with the importance and impact of the decision, along with the difficulty of reversing it.
ALTERNATIVE THEORY TO DISSONANCE: SELF-PERCEPTION THEORY
Self-Perception Theory provides an alternative explanation for cognitive dissonance effects. Vhanging people's attitudes happens only when two factors are present:
They are aroused, feeling the discomfort of dissonance.
They attribute the cause of this to their own behaviors and attitudes.
If you want someone to believe or feel something about themselves, first get them to do it. This works best when they have no particular view about the area in question. If they already have a strong view, you will need to call the view into doubt, for example by giving disconfirming examples.