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The Role of Cognitive Dissonance in Dehumanization

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Cognitive dissonance is an individual’s psychological discomfort caused by two inconsistent thoughts. It refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This then produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to a change in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance. People can experience different types of dissonance based on how highly they value a belief and the degree to which their beliefs are inconsistent. Cognitions that are more personal, such as beliefs about the self, tend to result in greater dissonance. We often see this in children who tend to struggle with cognitive dissonance, when it comes to doing the wrong or right thing and knowing better. Particularly in social settings where the influence of another child might cause them to do an unjust behavior or average for that child. An example of this theory would be a small child who has shoved another child on the playground when asked if they too would like to be shoved to the floor; a typical response of a child will be no; immediately the child will feel a mental discomfort. This is a result of them believing one thing but displaying the opposite behavior. To get rid of that discomfort the child forms a new thought to get rid of this discomfort, they will change their belief by justifying that child deserved to be shoved. The importance of the cognitions; things that involve beliefs that are highly valued typically result in stronger dissonance. We often notice this stronger dissonance with religious people who follow a specific doctrine on how they should live their lives. A prime example would be a religious man whose religious view says that having premarital sex is a sin, but he practices the act despite his views on sex before marriage. He is likely to relieve this discomfort with a new thought, that the practice of premarital sex is not so bad if it is done in a committed relationship. The greater the strength of the dissonance, the more pressure there is to relieve the feelings of discomfort. A question, I expect to answer by the end of this research paper is: how society plays a crucial role in the dehumanization of its citizens with the utilization of cognitive dissonance to justify the injustice being done to members of different social classes? This topic is relevant to psychology because it helps to understand the concepts of dehumanization as it pertains to cognitive dissonance; with a clear understanding of how society plays a crucial role in oppressing different groups of people.

Cognitive dissonance is a concept that was introduced by Festinger in (1957). Cognitive dissonance is the psychological discomfort (dissonance) caused by two inconsistent thoughts. According to the theory, we feel uneasy when we notice an inconsistency between what we believe and what we do. When attitudes and behavior conflict we can reduce cognitive dissonance in one of two ways: change our behavior to fit our attitudes or change our attitudes to fit our behavior. There are numerous ways to resolve dissonance, the textbook specifically sites effort justification; which is when a person comes up with a rationale for work put into getting something, typically by increasing the value associated with things that are difficult to attain. Effort justification explains the strong group loyalty that emerges after enduring difficult experiences to get into groups, such as initiation rites for Greek organizations, boot camp in the military, job promotions, labor pains for the mother of a newborn and the rigors of law school for becoming a lawyer. From a cognitive dissonance perspective, individuals in these situations are likely to think, “If it’s this tough to get into its likely worth it.” Working hard to get into a group can change our attitudes.

According to a peer-reviewed journal by Festinger Riecken and Schachter (1956) during a study on cognitive dissonance, they observed dissonance after a violation of an expectation which through shocking results led to the discovery of a new phenomenon. In this classical study, participants in a group study who believed there would be a catastrophic storm whose damage would be deadly. Members of the community anticipated the impact to happen within the next 48 hours. Many participants of the study had abandoned their normal lives in preparation for the storm. When the forecasted date passed without catastrophe, the people were confronted with evidence that violated their expectations. Festinger and his colleagues conjured that the individuals experienced dissonance as a result of the disconfirmation of their beliefs, or a violation of an expectation. Throughout the years after that first experiment, there have been several laboratory experiments on the dissonance theory. With the help of the first study, the primary concentration has now shifted to how individuals reduce dissonance. Festinger makes it clear throughout the article that there is no guarantee that the dissonance will be resolved. He proposes that if the event has minimal impact on the individual, there is a slight possibility that the dissonance may be resolved on its own, without the change is thought to remove the discomfort.

Taking a close look at our society, it can be shown how we dehumanize members of our society for their differences. Throughout history, there have been several occurrences where society has allowed social classes to separate and dehumanize groups of people. Politics is one domain that has been used for centuries by society to justify unethical actions done to members/ groups of people. The dehumanization of homosexuals, abortions, slavery and the Holocaust; are prime examples. According to The Science of Psychology textbook, one way to get rid of cognitive dissonance is through effort justification which is people’s tendency to attribute an increased value to an outcome they to put work into acquiring or maybe achieving. In the truth of effort justification, there is some sort of dissonance between the amount of effort exerted into achieving a mission or completing a job and the subjective reward for the effort. Through the utilization of my peer-reviewed journal. I have found out that dissonance can be observed when something is expected to happen, and it does not. Through the expectancy violation theory when a person expects something to happen a certain way but there is a change that violates the expectation that has been set. The answer to my question after the careful analysis of all my resources, I have concluded that as a society we have issues that have remained unsolved for hundreds of years, that continue to appear and manifest themselves in different forms of oppression. The outcomes are nearly identical in every traumatizing event in our nation’s history. As a society, we pride ourselves on the mistreatment of those who are lower, use systems to keep the oppressed from soaring to higher social status. We use our power to dehumanize and justify the sovereignty that we have.


  • King, Laura (2017) The Science of Psychology from an Appreciative View, Fourth Edition Chapter 13/ Pages 438-439
  • Levy, N. (2017, Sep. 28) Dissonance and discomfort: Does a simple cognitive inconsistency evoke a negative affective state? Motivational Science vol. 4(2) pg. 95-108 Retrieved from database 10.1037/mot0000079        

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The Role Of Cognitive Dissonance In Dehumanization. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
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