Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, March 13, 2015

It Makes More Sense!



I visited London recently, for the last time before returning to my home country (I am an exchange student). My friend asked me if I was interested in seeing a West End theatre production. I replied, “No, I am too tired”.

She responded with, “But you have wanted to see a West End show for so long!”

“Yes, but that’s okay. I have seen many other attractions in London already”, I said.  However, I began to feel a bit uneasy, as what she said was also true.

“This is your last chance probably in a very long time! It will be years before you visit London again and get the chance to see a musical here.” At hearing this, I thought her argument was quite valid. This resulted in cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance refers to the result of having two or more inconsistent cognitions simultaneously, leading a person to feel uncomfortable. People strive to be consistent and are motivated to reduce inconsistencies. They may do so by lowering the importance of one of the factors, add elements that are consistent with the factors, or change one of the dissonant factors so that they are consistent with each other.



Figure 1. Model of interrelationships between emotional and product dissonance, product returns, and factors affecting dissonance. *** = significant at 0.05 level. ** = significant at 0.05 level. N.S. = not significant.

Thomas and Jack (2013) investigated the role of cognitive dissonance in dissatisfied customers who return their products. 308 customers who had shopped at either Target or Walmart completed an online survey. They responded to questions about their most recent product return. The survey incorporated various scales, which measured product dissonance (dissonance related to the cognitions of the product, e.g., doubting the effectiveness of the product), emotional dissonance (dissonance in emotions related to the product, e.g., feeling sad that they might have acquired a better product), and product return frequency. The survey also measured different factors related to cognitive dissonance, including opportunistic behaviour of the customer (e.g., deciding to return an item after a single use), gender, and product brand. They found that the levels of both product dissonance and emotional dissonance were significantly correlated to the frequency of product returns (refer to Figure 1). 


In my situation, I was still interested in watching a theatre production in London, and it was a rare opportunity. Conversely, I was feeling very tired and preferred to rest. I felt conflicted. However, I decided that seeing a show would be better a decision than missing it due to simply being tired. In the end, I chose to view a production. Like people who returned their products, I also reduced my cognitive dissonance by changing one of the dissonant factors, in this case thinking I was too tired to attend a show.


Powers, T. L., Jack, E. P. (2013). The influence of cognitive dissonance on retail product returns. Psychology & Marketing, 30, 724-735. 

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