Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance
(L. Festinger)


According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. In the case of a discrepancy between attitudes and behavior, it is most likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior.

Two factors affect the strength of the dissonance: the number of dissonant beliefs, and the importance attached to each belief. There are three ways to eliminate dissonance: (1) reduce the importance of the dissonant beliefs, (2) add more consonant beliefs that outweigh the dissonant beliefs, or (3) change the dissonant beliefs so that they are no longer inconsistent.

Dissonance occurs most often in situations where an individual must choose between two incompatible beliefs or actions. The greatest dissonance is created when the two alternatives are equally attractive. Furthermore, attitude change is more likely in the direction of less incentive since this results in lower dissonance. In this respect, dissonance theory is contradictory to most behavioral theories which would predict greater attitude change with increased incentive (i.e., reinforcement).


Dissonance theory applies to all situations involving attitude formation and change. It is especially relevant to decision-making and problem-solving.


Consider someone who buys an expensive car but discovers that it is not comfortable on long drives. Dissonance exists between their beliefs that they have bought a good car and that a good car should be comfortable. Dissonance could be eliminated by deciding that it does not matter since the car is mainly used for short trips (reducing the importance of the dissonant belief) or focusing on the cars strengths such as safety, appearance, handling (thereby adding more consonant beliefs). The dissonance could also be eliminated by getting rid of the car, but this behavior is a lot harder to achieve than changing beliefs.


1. Dissonance results when an individual must choose between attitudes and behaviors that are contradictory.

2. Dissonance can be eliminated by reducing the importance of the conflicting beliefs, acquiring new beliefs that change the balance, or removing the conflicting attitude or behavior.


Brehm, J. & Cohen, A. (1962). Explorations in Cognitive Dissonance. New York: Wiley.

Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Wickland, R. & Brehm, J. (1976). Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance. NY: Halsted Press.

I am giving Cognitive Dissonance Theory a lot of thought over the last few days. It was particularly evident in the behavior of one of my girls who could not finish her shift and felt badly. There are a lot of strategies employed by the different girls in dealing with their individual dissonance. Whatever strategy a girl might have to reduce the dissonance, it is severely hampered when she does a set and only makes a dollar or two. Severe blow to the fragile belief system of some of the girls. My heart goes out to them.

One of the employed strategies is the adoption of the “stripper persona”. This person has the usual “stripper bills” (which is what she calls them), has the cynical outlook toward everyone else save for the girls in the dressing room, and is at the same time overly trusting and overly pessimistic toward people. She’ll disbelieve any notion that a guy is here for anything except to get a cheap thrill, but she’ll defend the notion that she is an artist in her dance and that is how she makes money, she’ll be more knowing of the money in the room and and how much she’s made, and she’ll leave a crown royal bag filled with ones on a dressing room table, the girls that work with her are at the same time as noble as she, and yet are lying, thieving, drama queens. It is acceptable to be late to work, because SHE IS the product, and she communicates in sexually explicit innuendos with other staff and management.

This is not entirely fair, is overly general, and exceptions occur everywhere. It could be that this is a regional aspect of the persona. When I tell my girls stories of what goes on in clubs in Houston, they are amazed and disgusted (or at least feigned disgust).

It comes as a shock, and indeed a counter-acting agent (which is greatly opposed by some) when I enter the scene, stress integrity, honesty, team work, and hard work. These are atypical of the “stripper drama queen” which while some may be naturally, others adopt purely as a method of coping with the dissonance. A few girls do not mind their jobs, they see a larger picture, they are working toward a law degree (and she works full time in a law office as an aide), they are working toward certification in another field (working toward massage therapy), or any number of things. It is easy for them to see that “a stripper is NOT who they are”. Yet the girls who have no other jobs, no other goals, nothing more substantial than an airy dream for a fairy tale ending, “stripper bills” to pay, a jealous or abusive boyfriend/husband who demands the money that they’ve made, are in need of something to combat the dissonance in their minds. For them it is not so easy to say to their self “I am more than a stripper” and when they work for a $3 set it is as though the universe is affirming to them “and you are a bad stripper at that”, and how many of my girls truly ranks being a stripper as the best possible job? I don’t know of any.

I’ve been given a comment by a friend that the girls dance to the music that makes them feel good, whereas another has said that the girls like to view themselves as performers. Both are valid, but the performing aspect of it is liable to be more true for girls who have the least amount of dissonance, are able to see more rewarding things in their lives (goals, dreams, relationships, etc…) whereas for the majority of girls that I have dealt with, the former is the closer to the mark. The music is picked according to her mood and she gets on stage and tries to lose herself in the music, the stage, the lights, and is immersed in this emotional blanket. This is like an emotional drug. Recall my thoughts on the beauty, comforting, an enobling aspects of depression. If depression were nothing but a mental tummy ache, we wouldn’t have the problem that we do with it. Yet is has a highly rewarding aspect to it in that it heightens the individual experience, wine tastes better, your tears are made of jewels, you are more aware of your breathing, it is like a shadowy Zen awareness trip. If what Zen says is true, or at least the portions concerning mindfulness, and I believe that they are, then this is a side effect that depression has somehow tapped into. Because of this positive influence on a negative emotion, it is a downward spiral, a person doesn’t fall into depression as much as he willingly walks down into it. The same with the music the girls play. She is walking around in a dress that she wears only because it is the sort of thing a dancer wears, she puts up with disgusting things that pig men say to her, she walks into a dressing room filled with loads of negative drama, and she isn’t too happy with this and other aspects of her life. Not only is there cognitive dissonance about her job, but also about other aspects of her life to which her job is a piece of evidence for. My DJ said it himself “I AM a loser, because I am 37 and live with my parents and work as a DJ in a strip club”. The strip club portion wasn’t a portion by itself, it was a part of the damning evidence to him as being a loser. The intermingling of beliefs, realities, and attitudes within a person’s internal network of self in place is amazingly complex.

By my changing the music, or even just criticising it, I am threatening one of the “drugs” that are taken to help cope with their night. Before I can do this, and keep things fun, the girls in a good mood, and money coming in (which will be a function of the atmosphere of the place, a function of the mood of the staff) I must find ways to combat the cognitive dissonance in the girls, enliven different possibilities for them (job, hobby, relationship, etc…) the like.

But I cannot stay here… I’ve got to get ready and go to work.


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