Cognitive Dissonance Theory


Mental discomfort when faced with contradictory information

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … coherent set of beliefs and values
  • Knowing is … comfort with beliefs and values
  • Learner is … discomfort avoider (brain or individual)
  • Learning is … adapting beliefs and values (to alleviate discomfort)
  • Teaching is … provoking and managing cognitive discomfort




Cognitive Dissonance is the mental discomfort one feels when one’s beliefs, ideas, or values are inconsistent or contradictory. Discomfort or psychological dissonance is triggered when new evidence does not align with previously held notions. To ameliorate discomfort, people either adjust to, argue against, or remain indifferent to the contradiction. In education, cognitive dissonance is used to reorient students’ awareness and their ability to defend their beliefs and values.


Critiques of Cognitive Dissonance tend to be focused on methodological issues related to experimental design, operationalization, and/or measurement. Cognitive Dissonance is often used for analyzing consumer behavior and for marketing strategy. The notion is sometimes critiqued as an uncritical modernization of:
  • Aporia – a Greek word having to do with puzzlement, being perplexed, at an impasse, or raising doubts, in the context of teaching, Aporia typically refers to modes of engagement that prompt the learner to question assumptions and conclusions.
  • Socratic Method – a form of dialogue/argument in which one participant asks strategic questions in an attempt to draw out the other’s assumptions and ideas, aiming to reveal inconsistencies, gaps, and/or contradictions

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Leon Festinger

Status as a Theory of Learning

Cognitive Dissonance is a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Cognitive Dissonance is not a theory of teaching, but it has immediate, practical advice for teachers.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Cognitive Dissonance is supported by studies and mappings from Neuroscience, which confirm there is a neural basis for the theory. As well, research meta-analyses indicate that invoking Cognitive Dissonance can be used effectively to affect students’ reading and science skills.


  • Aporia

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Cognitive Dissonance Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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