A little child was taken to a toy shop by his parents to choose a gift for his birthday. The child was given the option of choosing one out of his two favorite toys; a kid motorbike or a Play Station Portable (PSP). The child is now confused and indecisive as to which one should he be selecting. In the end, he finally agrees to get the play station portable, as it was more appealing to him.

haroon-charistyWhen we closely observe the situation we will see a satisfaction attached to his choice and no regret. If you ask him he will tell you that he likes the play station portable more than the kid motorbike he rejected. He must have thought about a lot of reasons why he should take the PSP and leave the motorbike. The uncomfortable feeling of just not being able to select one out of his two favorite toys takes him to a state called Cognitive Dissonance.

The concept of Cognitive Dissonance was given by an American Psychologist Leon Festinger in 1959, which can be defined as “the discomfort that one experiences when faced with a clash/contradiction leading to discrepancies and thus, causing irritation, distress and unpleasing emotions and feelings”. It can be experienced and expressed in the form of guilt, fear, anger, frustration, tension and embarrassment.  Dissonance creates a mental discomfort which is similar to physical discomfort that one experiences due to pain or hunger. The person then tries to minimize, reduce or eliminate the feelings of uneasiness to the maximum as soon as possible.

The theory states an interesting fact that many times small chunks of related cognitions such as knowledge or information co-exists which may or may not be consistent with each other. These cognitions can be based on one’s opinion, behaviour or reality. For example you go out shopping for an Ipad and ask the price of Ipad4 from one of the shopkeepers. Unexpectedly a shopkeeper offers you ipad 4 at a price of ipad mini. The next thing that happens to you is cognitive dissonance, why so? This is because you were not expecting it at such low price, secondly it does not match with the information you had after doing a little research on ipad prices. A state of dissonance will again be created causing indecisiveness and confusion in your mind.

For an enterprise it is vital to know what their customer’s motives are and what they basically are looking for. The reality is that customer has the power to decide whether the enterprise should keep working or not, even the pay of employees also depends upon customer’s satisfaction. Because of this an enterprise need to identify some special forces known as buying motives. Buying motives can be identified by looking at a person who has desires and fears that work as a driving force for whether to buy a product or not.

Over the decades companies have worked hard to get hold of the psychological concept of cognitive dissonance and how it relates to the customer buying behaviour. However Marketers are still struggling to relate it best with the consumer behaviour. According to a research if a buyer makes decision himself/herself than the chances of cognitive dissonance is much less as compared to the one made upon suggestions. Hence we can safely say that if a purchase decision is made by oneself then chances of post purchase dissonance is less and it also affects the future buying behaviour.

Theory of cognitive dissonance is basically based on 3 fundamental assumptions:

1. Humans are sensitive to inconsistency between belief and action:

It is a common fact that sometimes we do things that are not consistent with our belief and therefore a point comes when we disconnect while facing inconsistency. For example believing that we should follow traffic rules and then going against that belief breaking a red light signal at 3am creates inconsistency between our belief (No breaking of red light signal) and action (Breaking a red light signal at 3am).

2. Recognition of inconsistency

Once you realize that you have broken one of your principles, you will face a mental distress resulting in dissonance (Dissonance occurs when a person’s attitude contradict other attitudes or behaviors). The intensity of the dissonance depends upon how important the broken principle was for you. Higher the importance, higher will be the dissonance. 

3. Resolving Dissonance

There are three methods to resolve cognitive dissonance:

a. Change in belief

The easiest way to resolve dissonance is to change a belief. In the red light example when we say to our self, that it’s ok if I broke the red light signal at 3 am, that is when we are changing our belief. Although it’s the easiest but it’s the most uncommon way to resolve dissonance. The reason is because we don’t change our belief that often. 

b. Change in Action

To make concept easily understandable, let us once again take the example of breaking the red signal. Change in action in this case would be that you keep your belief to yourself and stick to your principle while making sure that it will not happen again. Doing so will help in resolving the dissonance.

c. Change in Perception about Action

Talking to oneself, that its fine if I drove away at 3am while there was no car or no one stops at a red signal at 3 in the morning is viewed as changing a perception about action (breaking the red signal). Hence in this way a dissonance can be resolved.

Cognitive dissonance has seen to be used as a tool to sell products. This happens when companies create a problem recognition situation and leaves it to the customer to solve it (usually in the form of advertisements). This is usually a pre-decisional cognitive dissonance. This lets advertisers to trigger off the customer to solve the dissonance by fulfilling the problem they recognized by watching the advertisement.  

Overall in a nutshell, when one has to get rid of cognitive dissonance, a person overestimates the positives while underestimating the negatives of the decision made. Therefore, it cannot be actually gauged as to how happy a person is after buying a new farm house.