IDEAL: Understanding Cognitive Dissonance – Explanation and Illustration.

Cognitive Dissonance:

(Explanation, Illustration, and its Impact on Learning.)

Icon of section IDEAL (Instructional Designer's Evolution through Analytical Learning)- Creative Agni ezine.


Understanding Cognitive Dissonance:

I had first encountered this term when I was a student of management. The context was customer behavior, and the concept being discussed was Post-purchase Dissonance. To simplify matters, let me explain Post-purchase Dissonance first. Every once in a while, after having bought something of high value (say a car or a watch,) we automatically begin to review our decision. We do this in order to reduce the cognitive dissonance that we experience due to two or more inconsistent ideas. The inconsistency may be internal, or it may be caused by a piece of new information. Let me illustrate through an example.

Let us say you ordered a watch online. The picture of the watch looked good (it looked like it had a curved glass and the dial had a silvery sheen) and it was available at a very affordable price. A few days later, the watch was delivered, and you opened the box with great expectations. You were hoping to find a watch that looked as classy as the one you had seen in the pictures. But when you unwrapped the box and opened it, you realized that the real watch didn’t look as good as its pictures. The dial was off-white and glass was plain. You realize that the pictures must have been touched up as the watch was the same model that you had ordered. Fortunately despite its not-as-good-as-expected looks, it still was a deal at the price you bought it.

So you tell yourself, that the watch is from a good brand, and that you anyway wanted a robust watch and not a flimsy wrist-candy.

When you engage in this behavior, you are trying to curb the cognitive dissonance that has arisen out of two conflicting ideas in your mind.

This of course, isn’t the only way to reduce/curb the dissonance. Depending upon your personality and the possible options, you could either attempt to return the watch, or give it to someone else, or just never use it.

Post-purchase dissonance, however, is a specific instance of cognitive dissonance. According to Leon Festinger, who proposed the theory, Cognitive dissonance may arise due to two or more conflicting cognitions (thoughts.) As Trainers, Instructional Designers, and Content Developers we often see the manifestation of Cognitive Dissonance in our training environments (classrooms/online courses) and its reflection in other Instructional Design theories and models. Let us look at these two manifestations in more detail.

  1. Cognitive Dissonance in Classrooms and Other Learning Environments
  2. Cognitive Dissonance and Other Instructional Design Principles


Training and Instructional Design Cartoons - Pup and Dog Cartoons - Coffeebeans - on Cognitive Dissonance - Easter


Reflection Activity:

  • Recall at least one such experience where you were troubled post-purchase, and you attempted to rationalize your buying behavior for reducing your cognitive dissonance.
  • Reflect upon why trainers/online content developers must concern themselves with the concept of cognitive dissonance.

Read the two posts in the series:

  1. IDEAL: Cognitive Dissonance in On-ground and Online Trainings – Reasons & Remedy.
  2. IDEAL: Cognitive Dissonance & Other ID Principles – Relationships!