Is dissonance reduction a special case of fluid compensation? Evidence that dissonant cognitions cause compensatory affirmation and abstraction

Daniel Randles, Michael Inzlicht, Travis Proulx, Alexa M. Tullett, Steven J. Heine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Cognitive dissonance theory shares much in common with other perspectives that address anomalies, uncertainty, and general expectancy violations. This has led some theorists to argue that these theories represent overlapping psychological processes. If responding to dissonance and uncertainty occurs through a common psychological process, one should expect that the behavioral outcomes of feeling uncertain would also apply to feelings of dissonance, and vice versa. One specific prediction from the meaning maintenance model would be that cognitive dissonance, like other expectancy violations, should lead to the affirmation of unrelated beliefs, or the abstraction of unrelated schemas when the dissonant event cannot be easily accommodated. This article presents 4 studies (N = 1124) demonstrating that the classic induced-compliance dissonance paradigm can lead not only to a change of attitudes (dissonance reduction), but also to (a) an increased reported belief in God (Study 2), (b) a desire to punish norm-violators (Study 1 and 3), (c) a motivation to detect patterns amid noise (Study 3), and (d) polarizing support of public policies among those already biased toward a particular side (Study 4). These results are congruent with theories that propose content-general fluid compensation following the experience of anomaly, a finding not predicted by dissonance theory. The results suggest that dissonance reduction behaviors may share psychological processes described by other theories addressing violations of expectations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-710
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • dissonance
  • meaning
  • fluid compensation
  • affirmation

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