Introduced by Leon Festinger in 1957—and since that time debated, refined, and debated again by psychologists—cognitive dissonance is defined as the aversive state of arousal that occurs when a person holds two or more cognitions that are inconsistent with each other. The concept of dissonance was once enormously controversial, but its support through five decades of research has made it one of the most widely accepted concepts in social psychology.

Cognitive dissonance can explain a variety of ordinary and extraordinary events in our social lives. Indeed, for a concept to have as long and active a “shelf life” as dissonance, it must either help us see our social world differently, help us to understand why certain phenomena occur, or allow us to make (and confirm) interesting ...

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