How Human Mind Produces Cognitive Dissonance?

By Elif Çalışkan

We have already mentioned both cognitive dissonance and the 3 efficient strategies to reduce it in our previous article. However, it has shown up a question about how human mind produces cognitive dissonance. Researchers have also distinguished three ways that produce cognitive dissonance: effort justification, induced compliance, and free choice (Vaughan & Hogg, 2010).  Then, let us see how these paradigms differ from each other.

1. Effort justification

Effort justification is a phenomenon that mentions people are motivated to evaluate a particular task or activity more favorably when it is difficult to achieve (APA, 2020). Meanwhile, it is a way to change the value of existing cognitions and it is one strategy by which humans may attempt to reduce dissonance. Likewise, people often tend to expend much effort in pursuit of goals they deem to be important and valuable (Maich, 2013). For example, if one employee has already worked hard to get the job, even if he never reaches his goal, he will try to justify his actions as worthwhile.

2. Forced Compliance

Forced compliance is a tendency of a person when behaved in a way that contradicts his or her attitude, afterwards, the person changes the attitude to be consistent with the behavior (APA, 2020). According to Festinger (1957) forced compliance occurs when a person is forced by others who are socially superior to behave in that is against his/her beliefs or attitudes (Bunsom, 2016). Forced compliance paradigm of cognitive dissonance also suggests post-decisional conflict (and consequent attitude change) should be greater when the communicator is negative (Vaughan & Hogg, 2010).  For example, the boss can use his/her authority by threatening to expel rather than persuasion to change employees’ inappropriate behaviors.

3. Free Choice

Free will is the power or limit of a human being for self-decision so, the function of the free will is also to be utilized according to personal opinion or choice (APA, 2020). Similarly, people can suppose that their choices between the actions have balanced and they will decide to do something (Vaughan & Hogg, 2010). Free choice paradigm also creates cognitive dissonance because choosing between alternatives is never perfect and the rejected alternative is an irreversible choice. So, people can perceive the rejected alternative more desirable ( Shultz, Léveillé, & Lepper, 1999). For example, a candidate who has applied for 2 different companies for the same position and received acceptance from both of them, has to choose one of the companies. On the other hand, after he chooses one of them, he may experience cognitive dissonance. He may think the company he rejected could have been better for his expectations.


To sum up, human mind can produce cognitive dissonance due to the effort justification, induced compliance, and free choice but we people tend to reduce it by using some strategies because we look for harmony between our beliefs and attitudes. So, when we encounter conflict we are motivated to change our attitudes by reducing dissonance. Similarly, despite we have already made a decision and what’s done is done, we can experience post-decisional dissonance between the chosen and unchosen options. Despite we often experience the state of cognitive discomfort in everyday life, trying to reduce cognitive dissonance is a powerful strategy to protect our mental health.


American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Effort Justification. In APA dictionary of psychology. Retrieved August 01, 2020, from

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Forced Compliance Effect. In APA dictionary of psychology. Retrieved August 01, 2020, from

Bunsom, T. (2016). State repression, forced compliance and self-justification: A psychoanalytical reading of Ediriwira Sarachchandra’s Curfew and a Full Moon. Journal of Human Rights and Peace Studies2(1), 167-187.

Maich, K. H. (2013). Reducing Cognitive Dissonance Through Effort Justification. Western Undergraduate Psychology Journal1(1).

Shultz, T. R., Léveillé, E., & Lepper, M. R. (1999). Free choice and cognitive dissonance revisited: Choosing “lesser evils” versus “greater goods”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin25(1), 40-48.

Vaughan, G. M., & Hogg, M. A. (2010). Essentials of social psychology. Pearson Australia.