What Happens When Our Beliefs And Behaviours Do Not Align?

Dissonance as opposed to consonance refers to the incompatibility or disagreement of two existing opinions or actions. 

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that states that we feel mental discomfort when our behaviors and beliefs do not align. Cognitive dissonance can also occur if two beliefs contradict each other. And because people tend to seek consistency in their attitudes and perceptions, the conflict causes feelings of unease or discomfort.

Therefore, we attempt to release this discomfort in different ways. This can include justifying our behavior, changing our beliefs or behavior so they align with each other, or rejecting any conflicting information. Let’s say that you identify yourself as an animal lover and believe that every animal deserves love and care. However, you prefer and like eating non-vegetarian food (even though you have an option to eat vegetarian food). Here your belief is not consonant or in line with your behavior and when you realize that, you are likely to do one of the following things to feel balanced.

  • Justify your behavior or persuading
    This might involve persuading yourself or others that no such conflict exists. You might seek support from others who share similar beliefs or try to convince others that the new information (that contradicts your belief) is inaccurate.
    Alternatively, a person might explain or justify the behaviors that conflict with their beliefs. For example, someone who smokes despite knowing that it is bad for their health might rationalize the behavior on the basis that it helps them open up to more people or that eating non-vegetarian helps balance the food chain. 
  • Reconciling your differences 
    This involves changing your behavior so that it is consistent with your belief. This method of reducing dissonance is most effective but it is also most difficult to implement. Reconciling these differences is a form of personal growth. This happens when you stop eating meat because you love animals or dislike the thought of killing them.
  • Rejecting conflicting information altogether
    This might be one of the most common ways of feeling consonant. Often people discard or straightaway rejects new information that does not match their existing beliefs. They may limit their exposure to new information and only attend to the information that agrees with their point of view- a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.” An example of this is when you suggest that a news source is fake or false when they present information that doesn’t confirm your beliefs (Eg- Eating non-vegetarian food increases the risk of certain diseases)

The concept of Cognitive Dissonance 

Cognitive dissonance is one of the most influential and researched theories in the field of social psychology. The theory of Cognitive Dissonance was first mentioned by Leon Festinger in his 1957 book, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. He suggested that people experienced uneasiness or discomfort when they hold conflicting beliefs or when their actions contradict their beliefs.

The drive to reduce this discomfort of dissonance is due to something called the “principle of cognitive consistency.” It is important to remember that cognitive dissonance is not an automatic response and the awareness of the inconsistency is important to feel discomfort. Not every individual experiences cognitive dissonance to the same degree and intensity. Some people have a higher tolerance for uncertainty and inconsistency and may experience less cognitive dissonance than those who require consistency.

Other factors that might affect the degree of cognitive dissonance include:

  • The type of beliefs: Beliefs that are more personal and strong can lead to more significant dissonance.
  • The value of the beliefs: Beliefs that are attached to the values people hold tend to cause greater dissonance.
  • The size of the disparity: A greater or substantial disparity between conflicting and harmonious beliefs will result in more dissonance.


Cognitive dissonance is an intriguing and well-researched topic. The sense of discomfort that it provides can impact- the behaviors, thoughts, decisions, beliefs, attitudes, and even the mental health of an individual. When the behaviors and beliefs of people do not match they might feel guilty or anxious. However many people may make positive changes in their lives, such as addressing unhealthful eating habits, addiction, or anger issues.


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