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How Cognitive Dissonance Can Affect Consumer Behavior Essay

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Updated: Feb 22nd, 2022


The term cognitive dissonance which is associated with Leon Festinger came into existence in 1957. It is used to describe a psychologically disturbing state or imbalance that occurs when there is inconsistency about various cognitions on a thing. The most common examples of inconsistent cognitions are the awareness that smoking is harmful to the health, the belief that it is pleasurable and the urge to smoke.

Cognitive dissonance motivates actions to reduce dissonance. Cognitive dissonance theory argues that individuals possess cognitive elements about themselves, their past behavior, their beliefs and attitudes and their environments. Consonance is said to occur when one cognitive element follows from another.

If one does not follow another, they are said to be dissonant and this creates psychological tension referred to as cognitive dissonance. Since cognitive dissonance is associated with psychological disturbances, individuals change the dissonant cognitive elements to reduce dissonance. Cognitive dissonance takes place after individuals make decisions and before efforts to reduce dissonance are made.


Most people ask themselves whether the qualities or characteristics of services can influence the possibility of cognitive dissonance. This can be addressed by looking at some of the things that characterise services. They include intangibility, inseparability, lack of faith and perishability. It is believed that these characteristics of services, the marketing problems that emerge and marketing strategies used in dealing with problems encountered cause cognitive dissonance among consumers of services

Intangibility leads to lack of protection through patents and makes it difficult to display or communicate services. These problems do not only make marketers uncomfortable but also the consumers. It is more difficult to evaluate services than it is to evaluate goods. As consumers purchase services, they face more risks than the ones they face when purchasing consumer goods. Intangibility therefore increases the difficulty of making the decision to purchase and the perceived risks involved in the process of purchasing .

Inseparability poses a challenge in that it forces the customer to be involved in production. It is also a problematic idea in that once customers get involved in production; it becomes difficult to produce services on a mass scale at a central location. In addition, the provider is seen as the service itself, something which is disadvantageous. Dissatisfaction as a result of the services received causes customers to feel responsible for the problem.

This is however different when they purchase the goods. Customers play an important role in satisfactory delivery of the service. As a result, they may have more complaints with regard to services than the goods. Special requests by customers may also be associated with varying prices for the same product. Such problems are believed to cause variability in the type of services the customers get thus initiating cognitive dissonance.

Perishability implies that it is not possible to keep inventories of services. Charging different prices to different customers is often the strategy used by marketers to avoid losing revenue. In addition, they use contests, coupons and premiums. An increase in the variability of service prices which is a marketing strategy used to respond to perishability increases the likelihood of cognitive dissonance among consumers of perishable goods.

Although cognitive dissonance has been discussed in different types of literature, it does not have a reliable scale to measure it. However, it can be assessed using a 22-item scale immediately after purchase. In the past, different indirect measures have been used to find out the occurrence of cognitive dissonance. In addition, more direct measures such as physiological measures have also been used.

The process of developing a scale for measuring cognitive dissonance starts with an exploration of the cognitive dissonance domain. Since there are various definitions and distinctions of the concept, researchers have attempted to develop a scale that can measure both the cognitve and emotional aspects of dissonance in the post purchase and pre-use phase of consumption.

The first stage in the development of the scale is the scale item generation. This involves generating a total pool of more than hundred dissonance items from exploratory research involving four focus groups with consumers. The validity of the content is then assessed by consumer behavior experts who are given the emotional and cognitive definitions of dissonance used in the study.

During the process of scale development, the adequacy with which a specified domain of content is sampled is a major consideration. Scale item generation is followed by the first stage of data collection and purification. Since the first stage alone is not enough, it is followed by the second stage of data collection and purification.

These processes are believed to establish important facts associated with cognitive dissonance. Dissonance follows a personal decision but may take place throughout the whole process of decision making and may never disappear completely. Its presence, magnitude and effects should be studied in all stages of the decision making process .

Consumer behavior is usually an interesting area to focus on. It involves a clear understanding of the psychology of the buyer and external influences such as culture, reference groups, family and social class. However, it is fortunate that there is basic knowledge about consumer behavior that exists and can be used by industries to make important decisions. Cognitive dissonance theory states that at some points, there are bits of relevant cognitions which may not be consistent with one another.

The theory appears fascinating to most researchers and practitioners since it presents marketing implications which appear to contradict tradition. For instance, advertising is intended at converting potential customers into buyers and once sales are made, the business comes to an end. Dissonance theory on the other hand implies that the purpose of advertising starts after a consumer buys the product.

Advertising only facilitates the attempt to rationalize the choice by the attractiveness of the brand the customer chooses. For instance, companies that advertise their goods are believed to make more sales since reading advertisements instigates the buying behavior.

However, the dissonance theory predicts otherwise by arguing that the buyers of a product tend to read advertisements more often than those who do not buy the product. According to cognitive dissonance theory, when one brand is chosen more by customers, its rank position goes upward while the rejected brand goes downwards (Oshikawa, 1969).


There is the need for more research to be conducted on the area of cognitive dissonance and the ever increasing importance of services. Services have been impacting the world economy in an enormous manner. Earlier reasearchers have also indicated the need to conduct more research on cognitve dissonance. They argue that it is of great concern since majority of consumers exhibit some form of dissonance occasioned by many factors.


Oshikawa, S. (1969) can cognitive dissonance theory explain consumer behavior? Journalof Marketing, 33(4), 44-49.

Kansal, P., & Bawa, A. (2008) Cognitive Dissonance and the Marketing of Services: Some Issues. Journal of Services Research 8(2), 32-51.

Sweeney, J. (2000). Cognitive Dissonance after Purchase. Psychology and Marketing , 17(5), 369-385.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "How Cognitive Dissonance Can Affect Consumer Behavior." February 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cognitive-dissonance-2/.


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