Cognitive Consistency and Attitudes


Festinger, Riecken and Schachter (1956) argued that the attitudes towards Keech, which were positive to begin with, became more positive than they had been prior to the night of the 21st December.


Cialdini and deNicholas (1989) - argue that people strive to maintain consistency within and among attitudes. They assume people are reasonably rational and thoughtful and strive to make sense out of what they think, feel and do. The natural outcome of these cognitive efforts to behave reasonably and rationally, according to consistency theories is that people actively construct and interpret the world in order to make consistent what is inconsistent.


Cognitive Consistency - People try to maintain consistency between

(1) Beliefs, Values and Attitudes

(2) Attitudes and Behaviour

(3) Different Attitudes

This organisation of attitudes, beliefs and behaviour into internally consistent structures both underscores and presumes human rationality, this rationality can be seen as consistent to both us as individuals and also to other individuals.

If there are cognitive inconsistencies people tend to be motivated to reduce or to try and avoid this inconsistency whenever possible, this is possibly because people do not like the psychological uncomfortable state (feeling of embarrassment, failure or being wrong) that prompts people to seek ways to reduce it.

Three Cognitive Consistency Approaches

1) Balance Model- Heider(1958)

2) Congruity Model - Osgood and Tannenbaum(1955)

3) Cognitive Dissonance(1957)



1) Balance Model - Heider(1958)

Heider based his model on the subjective environment of a person

Heider based Balance Theory on 3 entities

a) the Person (P) whose subjective environment we are interested in

b) another Person (O)

c) an object or a third person (X)

Evaluation of Balance Model

1 The model does not account for degrees of positive or negative feelings.

2 The model deals only with a maximum of three relations.

2) Congruity Model - Osgood and Tannenbaum (1955)

Osgood and Tannenbaum is based on how attitudes change when a person is exposed to a persuasive communication. There are 3 elements

a ) the person(P)

b ) the source of the communication(S)

c ) the message or communication itself(O)

Similar to Balance Theory Congruous Consistent states are those where all three relations are positive or two are negative and one is positive. However there is a difference, congruity is concerned with how communication by a source about an object affects the person's attitudes to both the source and the attitude object. A very important difference between balance and congruity is that to reach a state of congruity is that to reach a state of congruity from one of incongruity both P's attitudes towards S and towards O change.

Supposing Sarah (S source) makes a positive statement about the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons (O). Further suppose Peter(P) has a high regard for Sarah, and has a negative attitude to nuclear weapons. Congruity also measures the strength with which attitudes are measured on a scale ranging from +3 to -3.

Evaluation of Congruity Model

1) The model is specifically concerned with how attitudes change in response to persuasive communications

2) The model makes some useful predictions

3) The model can't cope with multiple bonds