A strong relationship exists between cognitive dissonance and persuasion. More specifically, the relationship between cognitive dissonance and a message’s potential to successfully persuade individuals to change their attitudes or beliefs.

Social judgment theory suggests that people’s existing viewpoints anchor along a continuum of positions representing the strength of the view both positively and negatively. Additionally, the anchored beliefs are like filters that quickly gauge if the incoming message or information aligns with their current viewpoint.

Social judgment theory explains how vague and ambiguous messages can be more successful than straightforward ones because it is less likely the message will land at either end of the continuum, which is the position of people’s most substantial feelings. Another reason ambiguous statements may succeed is because of selective perception, which explains that people will assimilate the message and perceive events as consistent with their attitudes or beliefs.

In this sense, social judgment theory and selective perception act similarly to the cognitive response approach, which states that a person’s thoughts and feelings toward a message and the messenger play an essential part in receiving the message. Also referred to as mental reactions, cognitive responses determine if subsequent thoughts will be favorable or critical in nature.

Successful messages persuade by producing favorable opinions. Similarly, the distraction effect tends to influence not by the message content but because a distracted mind cannot easily disagree with messages, it does not regard them. In this way, negative cognitions do not trigger resistance or form counterarguments.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) is a framework for understanding how the source, message, and receiver affect the message’s potential to persuade. In most cases, a person’s route to persuasion determines the amount of cognitive effort placed on evaluating the message. According to ELM, the central processing route requires much more active thinking than the peripheral route, which associates positive and negative cues rather than cognitive affording. Furthermore, evidence shows that a person’s processing style will generally remain unless confronted with information that directly impacts their life. In other words, when there is the perception that a message is personally relevant, people are motivated to think, which results in an increased cognitive effort.

Interestingly, how people process information is motivated mainly by a need for cognition (NFC), where high NFC produces feelings of joy and accomplishment for people who engage in critical thinking to understand important, complex, and intellectual topics in other cases, people with low NFC choose to avoid issues that demand much mental effort.

The key takeaway is that a message’s likelihood of successfully persuading depends on how it is processed. Therefore, developing messages perceived as impactful and personally relevant will increase a message’s ability to convince people to change their attitudes or beliefs. Likewise, social judgment theory suggests that a solid understanding of the target audience’s attitudes and beliefs allows better-tailored messages, ultimately increasing the chance to persuade.

Persuasive Advantages of Dissonance As described by the effects of involvement, engaging in a behavior, especially an unexpected one, can change the attitudes and beliefs associated with the behavior because self-perception develops from observing our behaviors and subsequently inferring our beliefs. After determining that action drives attitude, we can use inoculation theory and take steps to persuade others to change the direction of their thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.

  • Understand the attitude and beliefs you are attempting to change. Why do they believe this, and what experiences led to the formation of the belief?
  • Introduce dissonance in small doses combined with criticism and preemptive counterarguments.
  • Offer a solution by explaining why your product, service, or opinion can solve that issue.