Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Purchases

Festinger’s Cognitive dissonance theory places emphasis on the ways in which behavior influences attitude. Individuals have a need for consistency between their attitude and behavior. In the context of the scenario of having purchased a car and after the fact coming across another which I like better, because I have already purchased a vehicle and am tied to that purchase cognitive dissonance theory predicts that I would adjust my attitude to be in line with my action or behavior of having purchased the car I like less. I would begin to create reason to justify my purchase and emphasize why the other vehicle would have not been the right decision. The level of dissonance between my purchase and feelings must be lessened so that I can feel consistency between them. I may make arguments about how the color of my purchase is more me, or how the cost factor is more economical with my purchase or how too many people have that other car.

Important processes in cognitive theories of communication.

Constructivism: The cognitive processes that precede communication are the focus of constructivist theory. It is important to understand the influence human perception plays in the skillful production and interpretation of socially influential messages. Theory argues that human cognitive systems can be defined as construct systems; cognitive complexity, varying construct domains, levels of construct differentiation and the interpersonal construct system which are the overarching domains of construct systems. While people make sense of the world through constructs serving as the basic building blocks of cognitive organization they can also be joined by interpretive schemes. The joining and connecting of constructs aligns with Werner’s orthogenetic principle that holds cognitive systems as following a developmental trajectory.


Related theory of message design logics: O’Keefe (1988) poses three types of message design logic (expressive, conventional and rhetorical) that individuals use to deal with conflicting goals. Expressive design logic shows the view of communication being a straightforward cognitive process of encoding thoughts and feelings; these messages are literal and direct. The view that interaction is cooperative and undertaken according to rules, conventions and procedures is the process of conventional design logic. While the view that communications purpose is to structure and create reality is the rhetorical design logic. In RDL communication serves to define the situation in a manner that facilitates the meeting of multiple face goals.


Action assembly theory: The connection between cognition and behavior is examined by action assembly theory. More specifically the process looks at the retrieval of an individual’s procedural record from long term memory and the manner in which that record is connected to the nodes that it is composed of and how those nodes and their organization help to form an output or action by the individual. The nodes held in each record hold procedural information about action, outcomes and situations and the individual recalls these and activates them as they encounter situations, which match them.


Theories of plans and goals: Dillard’s development of primary and secondary goals serves to better understand the communication interaction between individuals and to identify what a person is trying to accomplish in the interaction. The very process of cognition is linked to message production when considering goals and directives, bearing this in mind we merge the planning process into the development of our goals as they are the destination of communicative interaction.

Schema theory and attribution theory budding heads.

Schema theory suggests that humans are active processors of information. Every waking moment we are exposed to different stimulus and we make decisions on how to respond and not respond; but if each of those were looked at individually without making reference to prior experience it would be difficult to understand or build a knowledge base. The development of our knowledge and teaching foundations rely on schematic processing and thinking.


Schematic thinking stems from the need to organize and build on our knowledge in a cognitively economical manner; we are cognitive misers. The process of knowing (cognition) is developed by the creation of schemas and information indexing which allows us to make generalizations and not be hindered by the varying information or situations we encounter. In order to get through information we rely on these schemas or general concepts. Schemas allow us to more effectively communicate and understand one another.

Attribution theory is focused on how people process events and how this relates to their thinking and behavior. More specifically it is concerned with what we attribute as the causal reason to certain behaviors and outcomes. Building on Weiner’s distinction of internal and external attribution we are able to identify a distinction on how people’s actions are explained by linking cause to factors within a person (internal) or on external ones, like the situation. A three-step process in which a person must perceive a behavior underlines an attribution, the person must believe that the behavior was intentional and then determine if the behavior performed was forced.

While attribution theory serves the individuals need to understand the reasons behind events and behavior it fails to identify what is taking place. The very distinction in what is being answered by schema theory and attribution theory talk to the difference in how our process of knowledge gaining and processing functions. Cognition at the level of schema theory takes place in our use of previous experiences and acquired information to define and answer the answer to what. And in attribution theory we are not processing information by relating to our schemas but explicating behavior. Attribution theory can be used to explain why an individual took a certain action and schema theory would allow us to explain how we know what type of act that was.

We aim to address the who, what when, why and where in our every day lives and both theories can be combined in providing a theoretical understanding of how those questions are answered. Schema theory is an operative of our cognitive processing of knowledge and understanding and leads the way to the use of attribution theory in explicating the reasons why behavior or actions occurred.

In schema theory an individual with a highly developed MOP pertaining to relationships may reject others’ violations of their MOP and interfere with the escalation of relationships. The fundamental attribution error indicates how an individual will overestimate the importance of internal factors and minimize external factors and the inverse stands when explaining their own behavior. More significantly in communication is the third-person effect whereas an individual erroneously attribute media effect to be more strongly on others than themselves.