Cognitive Dissonance and Persuasion

 “When we do something that is not in line with our beliefs, we change our beliefs”

When there’s a mismatch between our beliefs and behavior we experience what Leon Festinger calls a ‘cognitive dissonance’. And we have a strong motivational drive to reduce this dissonance.

We can’t change the displayed behavior anymore, but we can change our beliefs and cognitions. In order to reduce dissonance we simply alter our beliefs, which we actually do a lot. There are 3 ways to do so:

  • We lower the importance of the dissonant elements,
  • we add new consonant beliefs to create a consistent belief system, or
  • we change an existing cognition.

Cognitive Dissonance is strongly related to ‘self-consistency‘ and is sometimes referred to as “adaptive preference formation”.

Clarifying story

Ancient Greek fabulist Aesop used a great example of cognitive dissonance in his fabel “The Fox and the Grapes”.

“When the fox fails to reach the grapes, he decides that in retrospect, he does not want them after all… as they were not ripe yet.”

Online Persuasion tips:

Integrate cognitive dissonances in your business and sales strategy in such a way that your customers have to internalize buying and using your product.

  • Be hard to get.
  • Be expensive.
  • Be hard to get rid off.
  • Do not provide (large) incentives when asking your customers for a favor (such as ratings and reviews).
  • Even test with providing incentives for not buying your product (e.g. in your checkout page).

Further reading on cognitive dissonance:

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This article first appeared on Online Dialogue.

About the Author

Born in a family of psychologists, Bart Schutz studied consumer psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. With more than 15 years of helping businesses to psychologically optimize their online strategy & communication, he is one of the few leading voices to have academic, strategic and hands-on experience in engineering online persuasion.

Bart is known for his roller coaster presentation style in which he spoils the audience with digital data insights and online A/B-tests that clearly prove the effectiveness of applying behavioral economics, neurosciences and good ‘ol psychology. He is the founder of (showcasing more than 200 Online Persuasion Techniques), as well as the Chief Persuasion Officer with Online Dialogue, where he is responsible for knowledge sharing through their academy and online courses.

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