Communication Cognitive Dissonance
by
Natalie Jomini Stroud, Soohee Kim, Joshua M. Scacco
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0062

Introduction

Humans strive for cognitive consistency, at least according to the theory of cognitive dissonance and a host of consistency theories that emerged in the mid-20th century. The theory of cognitive dissonance was advanced by Leon Festinger in the 1950s. It proposes that inconsistencies among our beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, and/or behavior can give rise to the uncomfortable feeling of cognitive dissonance. Upon experiencing this feeling, humans are motivated to reduce it in order to return to a more consistent state. Although Festinger theorized that cognitive dissonance can occur, he did not suggest that cognitive dissonance always occurs when people are faced with inconsistency. He noted that the experience of dissonance depends upon three factors: (a) the number of consonant elements, (b) the number of dissonant elements, and (c) the importance of each element. A more important dissonant belief will cause more cognitive dissonance than a less important dissonant belief. One dissonant belief and many consonant beliefs will produce less dissonance than many dissonant and many consonant beliefs. The experience of dissonance can motivate people to engage in any of a number of dissonance reduction strategies. The objectives of these strategies are to (a) increase the number and/or importance of consonant elements and/or (b) to decrease the number and/or importance of dissonant elements. This can be done by changing one’s attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. This also can be done by seeking agreeable information and avoiding discrepant information. Over the years, many modifications to the theory have been proposed. Some researchers, for example, have argued that the theory works mainly with respect to cognitive elements related to the self. Despite proposed modifications, scholars continue to draw from the original theory. Although the theory was first introduced and examined by psychologists, it gained traction in the field of communication. The theory was helpful in explaining some earlier patterns observed by those researching the influence of communication, such as the seeming preference citizens displayed for like-minded information. In contemporary communication literature, the theory is most frequently referenced when scholars want to offer an explanation for why an effect may occur. Research is less frequently done specifically on the central tenets of the theory. This article focuses predominantly on articles that have been written in the field of communication rather than attempting to review the numerous studies that have been done on this topic in related fields, such as psychology and political science. Although research did yield articles from many different communication subfields, many citations were from the area of mass media as opposed to interpersonal communication, for example. This article emphasizes recent contributions and those that have garnered considerable attention through high rates of citation.

Core Texts

Cognitive dissonance emerged in the 1950s and inspired many studies that draw from its central tenets. The texts in this section represent the historical texts that introduced and refined the theory. The most-important texts in the cognitive dissonance tradition include two books by Leon Festinger. Festinger 1957 outlines the original version of the theory. Festinger 1964 includes numerous experiments with collaborators that probe the basic tenets of the theory. Festinger and Carlsmith 1959 is also noteworthy because of its counterintuitive findings that are anticipated clearly by cognitive dissonance theory. Later scholarship takes Festinger’s original theory as a starting point and provides new insights. Brehm and Cohen 1962, for example, focuses on the role of commitment in the experience of dissonance. Abelson, et al. 1968 offers numerous assessments, both critical and laudatory, of cognitive dissonance and clarifies the conditions under which dissonance occurs and how people respond to the experience of dissonance. Although Lazarsfeld, et al. 1944 was written before Festinger’s theory, it is important to include this reference because it illustrates the connection between communication research and cognitive dissonance. All these texts would be most appropriate for graduate students looking to gather insight into the historical ideas of the theory of cognitive dissonance. These texts are also notable in that they showcase the creative experimental methodology that was a central part of early research on cognitive dissonance. Although the texts are historical, they all contain insightful reflections on cognitive dissonance that continue to inspire more-contemporary scholarship.

  • Abelson, Robert P., Elliot Aronson, William J. McGuire, Theodore M. Newcomb, Milton J. Rosenberg, and Percy H. Tannenbaum, eds. 1968. Theories of cognitive consistency: A sourcebook. Chicago: Rand McNally.

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    This edited volume reviews numerous takes on cognitive consistency theories. The chapters include critical views of cognitive dissonance and explorations of the moderators of cognitive dissonance, including commitment, time of decision, and individual differences. The book also examines attempts to resolve dissonance, such as selective exposure.

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    • Brehm, Jack W., and Arthur R. Cohen. 1962. Explorations in cognitive dissonance. New York: Wiley.

      DOI: 10.1037/11622-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Highlights the role of commitment in the experience of cognitive dissonance. When one is committed to a position, one is more likely to experience dissonance when the commitment is challenged. The text also discusses the role of choice, the magnitude of dissonance, personality variables, and the strategy of rejecting the communicator to resolve dissonance.

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      • Festinger, Leon. 1957. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson.

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        This seminal book is Festinger’s exposition of the theory of cognitive dissonance. It is essential reading for any scholar interested in the theory. After describing the theory, Festinger divides the book into four sections probing the implications of dissonance theory: consequences of decisions, effects of forced compliance, exposure to information, and the role of social support.

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        • Festinger, Leon. 1964. Conflict, decision, and dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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          Reports a series of studies conducted by students and postdoctoral fellows working with Festinger at Stanford University, and is designed to expand our understanding of dissonance. Particular attention is paid in this text to the experience of dissonance before and after a decision is made.

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          • Festinger, Leon, and James M. Carlsmith. 1959. Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology 58.2: 203–210.

            DOI: 10.1037/h0041593Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            Based on the theory of cognitive dissonance, Festinger and Carlsmith find that attitude change is greater when people are asked to say something against their beliefs for a small incentive compared to a large incentive. This well-cited article showcases some of the unexpected findings predicted by cognitive dissonance.

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            • Lazarsfeld, Paul F., Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet. 1944. The people’s choice: How the voter makes up his mind in a presidential election. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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              For communication researchers, this text is important because it documents recognition of the outcomes of cognitive dissonance even before the theory was formally advanced. The text notes that partisans are more frequently exposed to like-minded messages in political campaigns.

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              General Overviews

              Contemporary scholars continue to draw from cognitive dissonance theory, albeit with considerable debate on whether the theory should be revised. Psychological Inquiry 1992 provides an insightful look at the similarities and differences between cognitive dissonance and a host of more-recent psychological theories. Focusing on the potential revisions to Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory, Harmon-Jones and Mills 1999 and Fischer, et al. 2008 include reflections on how the theory continues to affect more-contemporary scholarship. All three of these works would be especially useful for those looking to understand the influence of cognitive dissonance in psychology. Donsbach 2009 provides useful guidance for those interested in understanding how communication scholars have oriented themselves with respect to the theory. Bryant and Miron 2004 and Graber 2006 mention the theory only briefly but provide helpful information about how the theory fits in with other theories that have inspired communication researchers.

              • Bryant, Jennings, and Dorina Miron. 2004. Theory and research in mass communication. Journal of Communication 54.4: 662–704.

                DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2004.tb02650.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Includes a short description of the use of cognitive dissonance theory and several other theories in the field of mass communication. It includes a brief overview of articles published between 1963 and 1997 on the topic. Around four out of ten articles on cognitive dissonance relied on the theory as a primary theoretical framework.

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                • Donsbach, Wolfgang. 2009. Cognitive dissonance theory—a roller coaster career: How communication research adapted the theory of cognitive dissonance. In Media choice: A theoretical and empirical overview. Edited by Tilo Hartmann, 128–148. New York: Routledge.

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                  Donsbach reviews the use of cognitive dissonance theory by communication researchers. The chapter includes a history of the concept and a useful figure of intervening variables, such as one’s self-esteem and the credibility of the information. It describes previous work and discusses the importance of using field studies. The chapter also lists some productive areas of newer research, such as mood management theory.

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                  • Fischer, Peter, Dieter Frey, Claudia Peus, and Andreas Kastenmüller. 2008. The theory of cognitive dissonance: State of the science and directions for future research. In Clashes of knowledge: Orthodoxies and heterodoxies in science and religion. Edited by Peter Meusburger, Michael Welker, and Edgar Wunder, 189–198. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

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                    This chapter is an accessible description of cognitive dissonance and strategies to reduce dissonance. The authors review several prominent studies on dissonance and discuss a number of moderators, such as need for closure. They also describe modifications to dissonance, such as those theories emphasizing that dissonance occurs when beliefs are inconsistent with one’s self-concept.

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                    • Graber, Doris A. 2006. Political communication faces the 21st century. Journal of Communication 55.3: 479–507.

                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2005.tb02682.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Scans the scholarly field of political communication and offers prospects for future research. Graber notes that political communication implicates dissonance with the study of information-processing theories. Existing literature on political communication has found that citizens hold and tolerate conflicting political beliefs, potentially testing theories of dissonance avoidance.

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                      • Harmon-Jones, Eddie, and Judson Mills, eds. 1999. Cognitive dissonance: Progress on a pivotal theory in social psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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                        This edited volume provides modern perspectives on the use of cognitive dissonance theory. The chapters review suggested modifications to dissonance theory, such as the idea that dissonance occurs when the self is threatened. The final chapters in this volume also explore the relationship between dissonance and emotion.

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                        • Psychological Inquiry. 1992. 3.4: 303–356.

                          DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli0304_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Begins with an essay by Elliot Aronson. The essay argues that many newer theories, such as self-affirmation theory and motivated inference, can be explained by cognitive dissonance. Next, sixteen essays written by prominent scholars respond to Aronson. The issue concludes with Aronson’s response. This is important reading for graduate students interested in connecting cognitive dissonance with other theories. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                          Reducing Dissonance through Attitude and Behavior Change

                          When experiencing cognitive dissonance, one tool for reducing dissonance is to change an attitude, belief, or behavior. When faced with two conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that are causing cognitive dissonance, an individual may change the element that is less resistant to change. Numerous studies have examined instances in which this change occurs. These studies span subfields in health, interpersonal, mass, and political communication.

                          Political Contexts

                          Scholars in political communication have examined how citizens confront cognitive dissonance in political contexts. Electoral contexts have proven to be fruitful ground for examining attitude change based on cognitive dissonance. Beasley and Joslyn 2001 finds that attitude change in a postelectoral context depends on whether and for whom a person voted. Mullainathan and Washington 2009 documents that those eligible to vote polarize more after an election than those ineligible to vote. Holbert, et al. 2009 argues that voters rationalize the loss of their preferred candidate by broaching the possibility of voter fraud to reduce dissonance. Cognitive dissonance has been discussed as an explanation for voting behavior as well. Michelson, et al. 2009 explores whether the effectiveness of “get out the vote” efforts can be explained by cognitive dissonance. Political communication scholars have also applied dissonance to nonelectoral contexts. Approaching dissonance through media frames and messages, Dardis, et al. 2008 examines how capital punishment frames can lead to cognitive dissonance, resulting in reduced support for capital punishment. Lasorsa 2009 focuses on cognitive components associated with answering political surveys and suggests that the questions—and the order of questions—can inspire cognitive dissonance and strategies to reduce dissonance. Taking a more rhetorical approach to cognitive dissonance, Cloud 2009 posits that people will sometimes change their beliefs about a communication source in response to feelings of cognitive dissonance.

                          • Beasley, Ryan K., and Mark R. Joslyn. 2001. Cognitive dissonance and post-decision attitude change in six presidential elections. Political Psychology 22.3: 521–540.

                            DOI: 10.1111/0162-895X.00252Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            Beasley and Joslyn examine responses to election results, in the context of dissonance theory. The study examines attitude change (a) among voters and nonvoters and (b) among those voting for the winning candidate and those voting for the losing candidate. Results document the value of cognitive dissonance in explaining attitude changes after an election.

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                            • Cloud, Dana L. 2009. Foiling the intellectuals: Gender, identity framing, and the rhetoric of the kill in conservative hate mail. Communication, Culture, and Critique 2.4: 457–479.

                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-9137.2009.01048.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Examines conservative hate mail received by the author through frame analysis, rhetorical criticism, and auto-ethnography. Cloud discovers three adversarial frames that serve as foils for the establishment of the mail sender’s identity. Persons who face arguments that contradict their beliefs attempt to reduce their cognitive dissonance by, among other things, attributing the arguments to an irrational source through pathologizing discourse.

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                              • Dardis, Frank E., Frank R. Baumgartner, Amber E. Boydstun, Suzanna De Boef, and Fuyuan Shen. 2008. Media framing of capital punishment and its impact on individuals’ cognitive responses. Mass Communication and Society 11.2: 115–140.

                                DOI: 10.1080/15205430701580524Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                This research takes a multimethodological approach to study media framing of capital punishment. The authors discover the emergence of an “innocence” frame, due to increased media coverage of potential legal errors. In an exploratory experiment, the article suggests that cognitive dissonance has an influence in the acceptance of capital punishment frames. People were more likely to mention frames reinforcing their views than uncongenial frames.

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                                • Holbert, R. Lance, Heather L. LaMarre, and Kristen D. Landreville. 2009. Fanning the flames of a partisan divide: Debate viewing, vote choice, and perceptions of vote count accuracy. Communication Research 36.2: 155–177.

                                  DOI: 10.1177/0093650208330248Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Examines how voters on the losing side of an election manage the subsequent cognitive dissonance. The article concludes that voters rationalize voting for a losing candidate by holding postelection beliefs that their individual vote was not counted properly. This research also examines the impact of debates on this process.

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                                  • Lasorsa, Dominic L. 2009. Political interest, political knowledge, and evaluations of political news sources: Their interplay in producing context effects. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 86.3: 533–544.

                                    DOI: 10.1177/107769900908600305Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Using dissonance theory, Lasorsa finds that survey respondents report lower political interest after answering political knowledge questions compared to those reporting their interest before the knowledge questions. When a question giving respondents an excuse about not being informed is asked after the knowledge questions and before the interest question, interest is higher than when respondents are asked an excuse question later in the survey.

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                                    • Michelson, Melissa R., Lisa García Bedolla, and Margaret A. McConnell. 2009. Heeding the call: The effect of targeted two-round phone banks on voter turnout. Journal of Politics 71.4: 1549–1563.

                                      DOI: 10.1017/S0022381609990119Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Finds that contacting likely voters doubles their turnout rate. One explanation for this finding is that reminding voters of a previously stated intention to vote will increase voting likelihood, because individuals do not want to experience dissonance between their stated intention and their behavior. However, the authors are skeptical that dissonance explains their findings, concluding that the theory of reasoned action may provide more insight.

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                                      • Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Ebonya Washington. 2009. Sticking with your vote: Cognitive dissonance and political attitudes. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1.1: 86–111.

                                        DOI: 10.1257/app.1.1.86Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        This research uses National Election Survey data to assess attitudes toward the president two years following a presidential election. Mullainathan and Washington hypothesize and find greater postelection polarization of attitudes toward the president among eligible voters compared to ineligible voters. They argue that this occurs because eligible voters experience greater dissonance than ineligible voters.

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                                        Interpersonal, Mediated, and Persuasion Contexts

                                        This section reviews several articles in the areas of persuasion, mass, and interpersonal communication that could serve as a starting point for scholars interested in cognitive dissonance. In interpersonal communication, Albada, et al. 2002 qualitatively examines how cognitive dissonance can work in romantic interactions. Examining persuasive contexts, Chung and Fink 2008 focuses on how message valence can affect subsequent belief alterations. The authors attribute belief oscillations after exposure to certain messages to the experience of cognitive dissonance. Hullett 2005 integrates research on cognitive dissonance with research on the influence of mood on persuasion. Cognitive dissonance has also been used to understand how attitudes and beliefs are changed during mediated interactions. Spangenberg, et al. 2003 finds that advertising campaigns creating dissonance between what people value and what they do can cause a change in people’s behavior. Schiappa, et al. 2005 provides support for the parasocial contact hypothesis. This hypothesis explains how mediated exposure to gay television characters can reduce prejudicial feelings by creating cognitive dissonance between mediated perceptions and preexisting attitudes. Several scholars note the potential for dissonance to be aroused by analyzing, as opposed to merely enjoying, media content. Raney 2004 suggests that moral evaluations of characters in media could arouse dissonance and be cognitively taxing, thereby detracting from enjoyment. Dahlstrom 2010 speculates that belief change could result from dissonance, based on (a) wanting to enjoy a narrative and (b) the presence of counterattitudinal information in the narrative. Dissonance from media portrayals also can prompt behavioral changes. Coyne, et al. 2010 finds that cognitive dissonance can result from interactive reality programs depicting rewards for aggression. To resolve the dissonance, viewers can participate through voting. Yee, et al. 2009 suggests that the use of an avatar (role playing) can facilitate attitudinal and behavioral changes, based on the needs for cognitive consistency.

                                        • Albada, Kelly Fudge, Mark L. Knapp, and Katheryn E. Theune. 2002. Interaction appearance theory: Changing perceptions of physical attractiveness through social interaction. Communication Theory 12.1: 8–40.

                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2002.tb00257.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          Qualitatively examines social interaction among romantic partners, using interaction appearance theory. Participants resolve the dissonance created between a hypothetical partner’s attractiveness and an actual partner’s attractiveness, by adding additional belief criteria, reweighting the importance of physical attractiveness, altering their original ideal type, or increasing the salience of other traits.

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                                          • Chung, Sungeun, and Edward L. Fink. 2008. The cognitive dynamics of beliefs: The effects of information on message processing. Human Communication Research 34.3: 477–504.

                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2008.00329.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Uses experimental data to examine the trajectory of belief change during and after exposure to a message. The authors consider both univalent and mixed‑valence messages. The research finds that beliefs oscillate more after exposure to a mixed‑valence as opposed to a univalent message. Oscillation of beliefs in the postmessage phase is a potential manifestation of cognitive dissonance, according to the researchers.

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                                            • Coyne, Sarah M., Simon L. Robinson, and David A. Nelson. 2010. Does reality backbite? Physical, verbal, and relational aggression in reality television programs. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 54.2: 282–298.

                                              DOI: 10.1080/08838151003737931Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Suggests that a large portion of the aggression in reality programming is relational. Programs where voters can vote about the characters can lead to cognitive dissonance due to the relational aggression exhibited by program characters and the reward received for the aggression. To resolve this dissonance, audience members can vote against the aggressor or for the victim.

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                                              • Dahlstrom, Michael F. 2010. The role of causality in information acceptance in narratives: An example from science communication. Communication Research 37.6: 857–875.

                                                DOI: 10.1177/0093650210362683Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Dahlstrom finds that information about science inserted at causal locations in a narrative is perceived as more truthful than information inserted at noncausal locations. Dahlstrom notes that future research should examine counterattitudinal assertions embedded within a narrative. He suggests that enjoyment of narrative information with counterattitudinal assertions could lead to cognitive dissonance, which could lead to belief change.

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                                                • Hullett, Craig R. 2005. The impact of mood on persuasion: A meta-analysis. Communication Research 32.4: 423–442.

                                                  DOI: 10.1177/0093650205277317Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Hullett examines the effect of mood on persuasion. Hullett’s findings are consistent with the predictions of dissonance theory; participants in positive moods attempted to maintain that state by avoiding dissonance-arousing information or by choosing consonant information. He also documents that participants in negative moods were not particularly likely to attend to proattitudinal messages.

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                                                  • Raney, Arthur A. 2004. Expanding disposition theory: Reconsidering character liking, moral evaluations, and enjoyment. Communication Theory 14.4: 348–369.

                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2004.tb00319.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Raney suggests that people may choose certain types of media to induce feelings of pleasure. According to Raney, moral scrutiny of characters could arouse dissonance and be cognitively taxing, thereby detracting from enjoyment. In short, the needs for maximizing the enjoyment of media products may lead viewers to avoid potentially dissonance-arousing processes. See the Oxford Bibliographies article Entertainment.

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                                                    • Schiappa, Edward, Peter B. Gregg, and Dean E. Hewes. 2005. The parasocial contact hypothesis. Communication Monographs 72.1: 92–115.

                                                      DOI: 10.1080/0363775052000342544Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Applying parasocial interactions to Gordon W. Allport’s contact hypothesis, the authors posit that positive parasocial contact with gay television characters may lead to cognitive dissonance among those lacking gay members in their social networks. The dissonance may reduce prejudice. Findings illustrate a reduction in prejudicial attitudes toward gay men after exposure to a sufficient quantity and quality of television programs featuring gay characters. See the Oxford Bibliographies article Media Effects.

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                                                      • Spangenberg, Eric R., David E. Sprott, Bianca Grohmann, and Ronn J. Smith. 2003. Mass-communicated prediction requests: Practical application and a cognitive dissonance explanation for self-prophecy. Journal of Marketing 67.3: 47–62.

                                                        DOI: 10.1509/jmkg.67.3.47.18659Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        With five studies, this article shows that advertisements using self-prophecy (e.g., asking people to make a prediction about what they will do) can result in behavioral changes. Three studies find that cognitive dissonance influences the self-prophecy effect. The marketing technique may be most effective in situations where a performance behavior is accepted (e.g., attending a fitness club) but people do not engage the behavior.

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                                                        • Yee, Nick, Jeremy N. Bailenson, and Nicolas Ducheneaut. 2009. The Proteus effect: Implications of transformed digital self-representation on online and offline behavior. Communication Research 36.2: 285–312.

                                                          DOI: 10.1177/0093650208330254Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Documents that people infer their expected behaviors and attitudes from observing their avatar’s appearance—which they referred to as the Proteus effect. Due to the need to maintain cognitive consistency, people try to align their internal beliefs with their outward behaviors. Thus, enacting certain personas can lead to changes in attitudes and behaviors based on the mechanisms provided by cognitive dissonance.

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                                                          Health and Prosocial Campaign Contexts

                                                          Cognitive dissonance has inspired scholars to consider how the theory could be applied to the study of health communication (see the Oxford Bibliographies article Health Communication) and to communication campaigns (see the Oxford Bibliographies article Communication Campaigns) encouraging people to adopt desirable attitudes and behaviors (or to discontinue undesirable attitudes and behaviors). Health communication scholars have focused on how health communication campaigns can create dissonance, as shown in Cho and Salmon 2007. Huh and Langteau 2007 speculates that dissonance may help to explain physician reactions to direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements. Krosnick, et al. 2006 and Zhao and Cai 2008 examine whether antismoking campaigns and messages create dissonance between health attitudes and actual behaviors. Zhao and Nan 2010 examines how the effectiveness of smoking messages is moderated by whether a gain or a loss frame is used and the extent to which the self is threatened. The authors note that threats to the self can result in dissonance and the rejection of a message. Quick and Heiss 2009 applies cognitive dissonance to types of involvement in persuasive messages about high-fiber products. Morgan, et al. 2010 examines how organ donation messages can lead to cognitive dissonance, resulting in bolstered support for organ donations. Waters 2009 focuses on fund-raising campaigns in response to natural disasters, showing that dissonance can prompt donations. These works would provide background for health communication and prosocial campaign scholars interested in the application of cognitive dissonance theory.

                                                          • Cho, Hyunyi, and Charles T. Salmon. 2007. Unintended effects of health communication campaigns. Journal of Communication 57.2: 293–317.

                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00344.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Examining health communication campaigns conceptually, this research creates a typology of eleven unintended effects of these campaigns, including the dissonance created. Reviewing the extant literature on the dissonance effects of health campaigns, the essay notes that dissonance occurs when the ideal portrayed in a message differs from a person’s health practices or the person’s means to meet the ideal.

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                                                            • Huh, Jisu, and Rita Langteau. 2007. Presumed influence of DTC prescription drug advertising: Do experts and novices think differently? Communication Research 34.1: 25–52.

                                                              DOI: 10.1177/0093650206296080Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              Assesses attitudes toward DTC advertising as well as the presumed DTC advertising influence on others. Results reveal that physicians perceive that DTC advertising has less of an effect on the public than consumers do. The authors note that physician perceptions may prevent cognitive dissonance between negative attitudes toward DTC advertising and its potentially positive benefits for consumers.

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                                                              • Krosnick, Jon A., LinChiat Chang, Steven J. Sherman, Laurie Chassin, and Clark Presson. 2006. The effects of beliefs about the health consequences of cigarette smoking on smoking onset. Journal of Communication 56.S1: S18–S37.

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                                                                This longitudinal study discusses the possible dissonance between people’s beliefs about smoking and the values they ascribe to health. The research uncovers that continued education about the health effects of smoking can inhibit smoking onset, with interesting results based on gender. For example, having an older sister who smokes increases the chance of initiating smoking for girls but not for boys.

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                                                                • Morgan, Susan E., Andy J. King, Jessica Rae Smith, and Rebecca Ivic. 2010. A kernel of truth? The impact of television storylines exploiting myths about organ donation on the public’s willingness to donate. Journal of Communication 60.4: 778–796.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01523.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Approaching attitude change from the tradition of media effects, this research examines how exposure to inaccurate information in television story lines about organ donation affects donation attitudes held by donors and nondonors. The study finds that nondonor attitudes became more negative after exposure. Donors exhibited little change in attitudes or in some cases increased levels of support, a potential bolstering response to minimize cognitive dissonance.

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                                                                  • Quick, Brian L., and Sarah N. Heiss. 2009. An investigation of value-, impression-, and outcome-relevant involvement on attitudes, purchase intentions, and information seeking. Communication Studies 60.3: 253–267.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1080/10510970902956008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Quick and Heiss analyze the effects of different types of involvement on attitude formation, purchase intentions, and information seeking about high-fiber foods. Impression-relevant involvement (IRI), one’s perceptions of others’ views, is seen as a potential source of cognitive dissonance. The research finds that although some types of involvement relate to seeking additional information and attitudes, IRI did not.

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                                                                    • Waters, Richard D. 2009. Examining the role of cognitive dissonance in crisis fundraising. Public Relations Review 35.2: 139–143.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2008.11.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Waters examines whether cognitive dissonance explains why people donated in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami. Those who experienced more dissonance were more likely to donate and to reduce their news exposure. This article would be appropriate for undergraduates or graduates interested in nonprofit public relations.

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                                                                      • Zhao, Xiaoquan, and Xiaomei Cai. 2008. The role of ambivalence in college nonsmokers’ information seeking and information processing. Communication Research 35.3: 298–318.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1177/0093650208315959Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        Examining college nonsmokers’ attitudes toward smoking, this article assesses how ambivalence about smoking leads to increased information, seeking to reduce cognitive dissonance. The researchers find a significant decline in antismoking beliefs during college, with greater positive evaluations of smoking leading to higher levels of nonsmoker ambivalence. These ambivalent nonsmokers seek out additional nonsmoking information to reduce cognitive discomfort.

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                                                                        • Zhao, Xiaoquan, and Xiaoli Nan. 2010. Influence of self-affirmation on responses to gain versus loss framed antismoking messages. Human Communication Research 36.4: 493–511.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2010.01385.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Dissonance can result from encountering information critical of the self. By affirming the self, an individual may be less resistant to critical information. This article examines the potential influence of self-affirmation on college smokers’ response to antismoking messages. Results reveal that self-affirmation increases positive responses to a loss-framed health message and increases negative responses to a gain-framed message.

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                                                                          Reducing Dissonance through Selective Exposure

                                                                          Attitude change represents one way dissonance can be reduced. Another prominent research question in the literature on cognitive dissonance is whether and to what extent people choose consonant information and avoid dissonant information based on their need for dissonance reduction, a phenomenon known as selective exposure. Here we review studies with a strong connection to cognitive dissonance. Berkowitz 1965 is an early example of interest in connecting communication decisions with cognitive dissonance. The first major reviews of research on selective exposure were Freedman and Sears 1965 and Sears and Freedman 1967. These research summaries concluded that the evidence for selective exposure was not convincing and pointed to methodological shortfalls in previous research. These two pieces had a chilling effect on selective exposure research, and less research was done on this topic in the 1970s and 1980s, although Cotton and Hieser 1980 is a good example of research during this period. The next two major summaries were Cotton 1985 and Frey 1986. These summaries agreed with Jonathan L. Freedman and David O. Sears in some ways; namely, that selective exposure would not occur in all instances. John L. Cotton and Dieter Frey, however, suggest numerous moderators, such as the usefulness of information, and provide reasons to continue to research selective exposure. The Freedman and Sears articles combined with the Cotton and Frey pieces would be most useful for advanced undergraduates or graduate students interested in understanding scholarly debates on selective exposure. Taking advantage of the statistical technique of meta-analysis, scholars have been able to return to the literature on selective exposure to uncover more-consistent effects. Both D’Alessio and Allen 2002 and Hart, et al. 2009 find evidence of a selective exposure effect in their authors’ meta-analyses. These pieces would provide helpful guidance for graduate students looking for a comprehensive overview of research on selective exposure.

                                                                          • Berkowitz, Leonard. 1965. Cognitive dissonance and communication preferences. Human Relations 18.4: 361–372.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1177/001872676501800405Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            Berkowitz examines the relationship between the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance and one’s communication behaviors (the motivation to communicate with others and the content of messages one sends to another). The results show that motivation has a curvilinear relationship with the intensity of dissonance. Moderate dissonance, particularly for men, allowed subjects to write the longest messages and to ask for the opinions of others.

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                                                                            • Cotton, John L. 1985. Cognitive dissonance in selective exposure. In Selective exposure to communication. Edited by Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, 11–33. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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                                                                              Cotton chronicles changes in the study of selective exposure and dissonance over time. The chapter ends with four unanswered questions that continue to inspire scholarship: the differences between approaching and avoiding information, individual differences in selective exposure, temporal questions, and how selective exposure works in the real world. This is a useful historical look at research on selective exposure based on cognitive dissonance.

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                                                                              • Cotton, John L., and Rex A. Hieser. 1980. Selective exposure to information and cognitive dissonance. Journal of Research in Personality 14.4: 518–527.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1016/0092-6566(80)90009-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                Attributing the failure of previous studies to confirm the existence of selective exposure to design deficiencies, Cotton and Hieser confirm Leon Festinger’s predictions about cognitive dissonance and selective exposure. The authors manipulate dissonance by having subjects write counterattitudinal essays under either high or low choice and then measure subsequent selective exposure.

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                                                                                • D’Alessio, Dave, and Mike Allen. 2002. Selective exposure and dissonance after decisions. Psychological Reports 91.2: 527–532.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.2466/pr0.2002.91.2.527Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Employs a meta-analysis of sixteen studies to examine whether cognitive dissonance is associated with selective exposure, confirming an effect with a small magnitude. Testing indicates that there were no moderators of the effect. The authors highlight the importance of statistical methodology and appropriate tests of dissonance theory in testing the relationship between dissonance and selective exposure.

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                                                                                  • Freedman, Jonathan L., and David O. Sears. 1965. Selective exposure. In Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 2. Edited by Leonard Berkowitz, 57–97. New York: Academic Press.

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                                                                                    In this critical article Freedman and Sears review research on selective exposure and conclude that while there is support for the phenomenon in cross-sectional research, there is little support in laboratory contexts. The authors propose numerous methodological reasons for the lack of support for the hypothesis, such as the lack of controls for information availability. The text is invaluable background for scholars interested in exploring selective exposure.

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                                                                                    • Frey, Dieter. 1986. Recent research on selective exposure to information. In Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 19. Edited by Leonard Berkowitz, 41–80. New York: Academic Press.

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                                                                                      Frey provides a brief historical review of selective exposure research and then enumerates several additional variables that should be considered when examining exposure decisions, such as the usefulness of information. The implications for future research are a helpful preview of some of Frey’s later research in this area.

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                                                                                      • Hart, William, Dolores Albarracín, Alice Eagly, Inge Brechan, Matthew J. Lindberg, and Lisa Merrill. 2009. Feeling validated versus being correct: A meta-analysis of selective exposure to information. Psychological Bulletin 135.4: 555–588.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1037/a0015701Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        This meta-analysis considers articles that have examined selective exposure to pro- and counterattitudinal information. The study finds a moderately sized selective exposure effect and suggests several moderators, such as lower selective exposure when faced with lower-quality information and when subjects had lower levels of close-mindedness.

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                                                                                        • Sears, David O., and Jonathan L. Freedman. 1967. Selective exposure to information: A critical review. Public Opinion Quarterly 31.2: 194–213.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1086/267513Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          Continues the authors’ critique of selective exposure research, advancing possible reasons that people seek information, such as its utility. This is critical reading for scholars interested in selective exposure. Several proposed moderators and methodological limitations continue to apply in the early 21st century.

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                                                                                          Political Contexts

                                                                                          Political contexts are well represented in research on selective exposure and cognitive dissonance. In terms of campaigns, Ziemke 1980, for example, reports evidence of selective exposure to candidate information in the 1976 presidential campaign. In terms of political issues, Knobloch-Westerwick and Meng 2009 reveals how certain factors may affect exposure to pro- and counterattitudinal political information. Even religion can affect news use; Scheufele, et al. 2003 suggests that the use of mass media by those with strong religious beliefs can lead to cognitive dissonance. Face-to-face political discussions also tend to be between like-minded discussants. Mutz and Martin 2001 finds considerably less counterattitudinal exposure in face-to-face political contexts compared with mediated contests. The authors note, however, that as media choice expands, more selective exposure may result. Indeed, scholars have explored whether the increasingly diversified media environment may result in audience fragmentation and distinct patterns of selective exposure. Stroud 2011 analyzes patterns of selective exposure across media types and the antecedents and consequences of selective exposure. With respect to cable news outlets, Iyengar and Hahn 2009 documents that the reputations of certain media outlets affect the selection of articles attributed to these outlets. Others have focused on the Internet and its potential to affect selective exposure. Hwang, et al. 2006 suggests that individuals faced with media coverage sharply different from their own views are motivated to exercise selective exposure. The more people feel dissonance from mainstream media coverage, the more motivated they are to use the Internet. Johnson, et al. 2009 proposes that selective exposure is a means of processing information effectively rather than a way to reduce dissonance, noting that the use of blogs is one way people can attend to preferred types of information.

                                                                                          • Hwang, Hyunseo, Michael Schmierbach, Hye-Jin Paek, Homero Gil de Zuniga, and Dhavan Shah. 2006. Media dissociation, Internet use, and antiwar political participation: A case study of political dissent and action against the war in Iraq. Mass Communication and Society 9.4: 461–483.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1207/s15327825mcs0904_5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Suggests that people faced with media coverage sharply different from their own views are motivated to seek information from supportive sources. Noting that the Internet is especially valuable for those motivated to reduce dissonance, this study suggests that the more people feel dissonance from mainstream media coverage, the more they want to use the Internet.

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                                                                                            • Iyengar, Shanto, and Kyu S. Hahn. 2009. Red media, blue media: Evidence of ideological selectivity in media use. Journal of Communication 59.1: 19–39.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2008.01402.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Noting the mixed results of literature examining the phenomenon of partisan selective exposure, Iyengar and Hahn focus on the greater selectivity individuals exercise in the diversified new political media environment. Using an experiment that randomly assigns source attributions (e.g., Fox, NPR) to articles, the authors show that partisans are drawn toward articles attributed to a congenial media source.

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                                                                                              • Johnson, Thomas J., Shannon L. Bichard, and Weiwu Zhang. 2009. Communication communities or “cyberghettos?”: A path analysis model examining factors that explain selective exposure to blogs. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 15.1: 60–82.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01492.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Investigates whether and how media use, political discussion, and political/demographic factors predict selective exposure to blogs. Shows that substantial use of blogs, political activity, high levels of partisanship, and education are positively related with selective exposure to blogs.

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                                                                                                • Knobloch-Westerwick, Silvia, and Jingbo Meng. 2009. Looking the other way: Selective exposure to attitude-consistent and counterattitudinal political information. Communication Research 36.3: 426–448.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/0093650209333030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  Examines how a host of factors may relate to political information exposure. By tracking people’s behavior when browsing an online news source, the authors establish a selective exposure effect. They also show that factors such as attitude certainty, importance, and accessibility are related to the search for attitude-consistent and counterattitudinal political information, in different ways.

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                                                                                                  • Mutz, Diana C., and Paul S. Martin. 2001. Facilitating communication across lines of political difference: The role of mass media. American Political Science Review 95.1: 97–114.

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                                                                                                    Mutz and Martin examine the frequency with which people are exposed to “political dissonance”—views with which they disagree. They explore the prevalence of this occurrence in interpersonal contexts (e.g., the workplace) and in mediated contexts (e.g., newspapers). The findings show that political dissonance occurs more frequently from media than from interpersonal sources.

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                                                                                                    • Scheufele, Dietram A., Matthew C. Nisbet, and Dominque Brossard. 2003. Pathways to political participation? Religion, communication contexts, and mass media. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 15.3: 300–324.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/15.3.300Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      Analyzes the relationship among religion and political discussion, news media use, and antecedents of democratic citizenship. The authors note that strong religious beliefs may impede certain types of media use and discussion that could create cognitive dissonance. Finds that higher levels of doctrinal commitment are associated with lower levels of newspaper reading and political knowledge.

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                                                                                                      • Stroud, Natalie Jomini. 2011. Niche news: The politics of news choice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                        Stroud documents a consistent selective exposure relationship across different media types. Partisans are more likely to use like-minded newspapers, magazines, political talk radio, cable news programs, and Internet websites. She also examines possible antecedents and consequences of selective exposure, such as political knowledge and issue importance.

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                                                                                                        • Ziemke, Dean A. 1980. Selective exposure in a presidential campaign contingent on certainty and salience. In Communication yearbook. Edited by Dan Nimmo, 497–511. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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                                                                                                          Ziemke examines selective exposure in the context of a presidential election, finding that candidate preference predicted selectively viewing presidential candidate speeches and selectively reading candidate pamphlets. He also finds that certainty positively predicted selective exposure.

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                                                                                                          Nonpolitical Contexts

                                                                                                          Selective exposure also operates in nonpolitical contexts. In these instances, scholars are not concerned with political predictors of exposure, such as political partisanship. Instead, these authors are interested in other individual attributes that may help us understand when people seek out other types of information, such as certain news articles or information from an interlocutor. Knobloch-Westerwick and Hastall 2010 shows how individual characteristics, such as status and identity, influence information choice. Robinson 2009 looks at interactions between people and suggests that inconsistencies arising in conversation can motivate information search behavior. Peter and Valkenburg 2009 draws from dissonance theory to address the psychological process by which people select media content that corresponds to their needs, motives, and cognitions.

                                                                                                          • Knobloch-Westerwick, Silvia, and Matthias R. Hastall. 2010. Please your self: Social identity effects on selective exposure to news about in- and out-groups. Journal of Communication 60.3: 515–535.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01495.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            Shows that individuals’ unique social identity may change the way cognitive dissonance influences the choice of information. The authors find that young individuals select positive information about other young people. Older individuals select negative information about young people.

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                                                                                                            • Peter, Jochen, and Patti M. Valkenburg. 2009. Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit Internet material and notions of women as sex objects: Assessing causality and underlying processes. Journal of Communication 59.3: 407–433.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01422.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              The authors suggest that adolescents’ beliefs about women may predict their exposure to sexually explicit Internet material. Affirming cognitive dissonance theory, media content consistent with existing cognitions may be related to more-pleasant effects than media content that disconfirms existing cognitions. The authors suggest an indirect effect of beliefs and cognitions on exposure to certain media content.

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                                                                                                              • Robinson, Jeffrey D. 2009. Managing counterinformings: An international practice for soliciting information that facilitates reconciliation of speakers’ incompatible positions. Human Communication Research 35.4: 561–587.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2009.01363.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                Robinson draws from the idea that discrepant information can prompt information seeking. He analyzes conversations in which it comes to light that the discussants hold incompatible positions. In these situations, one possible reaction is for a discussant to seek additional information to resolve the inconsistency.

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                                                                                                                Limits of Selective Exposure

                                                                                                                Although research on selective exposure continues to flourish in the field of communication, there are numerous critical views on the extent to which selective exposure occurs. The best-known critiques are Freedman and Sears 1965 and Sears and Freedman 1967. In their articles Jonathan L. Freedman and David O. Sears raise numerous problems with research on selective exposure from the cognitive dissonance tradition. Their critiques suggest that the instances in which selective exposure occurs may be very limited and that there are numerous moderators of the relationship between cognitive dissonance and selective exposure. Research confirms the presence of moderators. Jonas, et al. 2001 indicates that the extent of selective exposure varies depending on how people evaluate their options before selecting a piece of information. Brannon, et al. 2007 shows that attitude strength moderates the extent of selective exposure. Although Fischer, et al. 2008 finds that selective exposure is moderated by the number of information options provided, the authors’ data do not support the idea that dissonance is responsible. Others have noted that people do not always seek or encounter like-minded views. Both Beaudoin 2011 and Huckfeldt and Mendez 2008 find that people do encounter diverse news—something that would be avoided if people always wanted to maintain cognitive consistency. Huckfeldt and Mendez 2008 argues that the relationship is complex; disagreement does occur within discussion networks, but it does not always prompt the avoidance of political discussion. Some have analyzed selective exposure in an online environment. Garrett 2009 examines selective exposure online and finds that although selective exposure may occur, people may not be motivated to avoid messages they disagree with. Brundidge 2010 also evaluates the phenomenon of selective exposure in an online context, finding that people discussing politics online have more-diverse discussion networks.

                                                                                                                • Beaudoin, Christopher E. 2011. News effects on bonding and bridging social capital: An empirical study relevant to ethnicity in the United States. Communication Research 38.2: 155–178.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/0093650210381598Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  Examines the relationship between media use patterns and social capital by ethnicity. The data reveal a positive association between traditional news media use and bonding social capital for whites and Asians, and a negative one for blacks and Latinos. This may counter the idea that individuals seek only cognitively consistent ethnic group information through selective exposure.

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                                                                                                                  • Brannon, Laura A., Michael J. Tagler, and Alice H. Eagly. 2007. The moderating role of attitude strength in selective exposure to information. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43.4: 611–617.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2006.05.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Within the framework of dissonance theory, the authors suggest that there are attitude types more likely to engage in selective exposure. They show that attitude strength plays a critical role in producing selective exposure.

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                                                                                                                    • Brundidge, Jennifer. 2010. Encountering “difference” in the contemporary public sphere: The contribution of the Internet to the heterogeneity of political discussion networks. Journal of Communication 60.4: 680–700.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01509.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Brundidge questions whether the Internet will amplify selective exposure. Rather than regarding the Internet as a place that selectivity will be greatly facilitated or reduced, Brundidge finds a small increase in people’s exposure to diverse political discussants (others with different genders, races, and political viewpoints), if only inadvertently.

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                                                                                                                      • Fischer, Peter, Stefan Schulz-Hardt, and Dieter Frey. 2008. Selective exposure and information quantity: How different information quantities moderate decision makers’ preference for consistent and inconsistent information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94.2: 231–244.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.94.2.94.2.231Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        The authors experimentally test whether dissonance or other psychological explanations might explain why selective exposure is more apparent when people have more options to choose from. Their results suggest that dissonance is not the leading explanation for the relationship between information quantity and selective exposure.

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                                                                                                                        • Freedman, Jonathan L., and David O. Sears. 1965. Selective exposure. In Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 2. Edited by Leonard Berkowitz, 57–97. New York: Academic Press.

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                                                                                                                          Freedman and Sears present numerous reasons to doubt that people are always motivated to select congenial information and avoid uncongenial information. In addition to reviewing the results of previous research, they also propose a series of factors that may affect information exposure, such as education and social class.

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                                                                                                                          • Garrett, R. Kelly. 2009. Politically motivated reinforcement seeking: Reframing the selective exposure debate. Journal of Communication 59.4: 676–699.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01452.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            Garrett reviews literature suggesting that although there is evidence that people seek like-minded information, the evidence is weaker that people avoid non-like-minded information. He conducts a survey to examine this phenomenon, finding that some know both opinion-reinforcing and opinion-challenging information about candidates in the 2004 presidential election.

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                                                                                                                            • Huckfeldt, Robert, and Jeanette Morehouse Mendez. 2008. Moths, flames, and political engagement: Managing disagreement within communication networks. Journal of Politics 70.1: 83–96.

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                                                                                                                              Examines political heterogeneity among respondents and their discussants. The authors test the commonly held assumption that people prefer political homophily within their networks to reduce cognitive dissonance and increase social conformity. They find substantial disagreement in political discussion networks, with discussion sparking disagreement but disagreement serving as a censoring mechanism for future discussion.

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                                                                                                                              • Jonas, Eva, Stefan Schulz-Hardt, Dieter Frey, and Norman Thelen. 2001. Confirmation bias in sequential information search after preliminary decisions: An expansion of dissonance theoretical research on selective exposure to information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80.4: 557–571.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.80.4.557Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                The authors explain biased information searches within the context of dissonance theory. They suggest that information search procedures in research should resemble real-life settings. The findings confirm the presence of an even-stronger preference for consonant information when information is presented and processed sequentially instead of simultaneously.

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                                                                                                                                • Sears, David O., and Jonathan L. Freedman. 1967. Selective exposure to information: A critical review. Public Opinion Quarterly 31.2: 194–213.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1086/267513Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  This piece continues the article Freedman and Sears 1965, adding additional critiques of prior research and factors that researchers should consider before concluding that people are motivated to select attitude-consistent messages and avoid attitude-inconsistent messages, such as the utility of information.

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                                                                                                                                  Study Methods

                                                                                                                                  In research on cognitive dissonance, researchers often manipulate certain variables assumed to create dissonance and then observe whether study participants subsequently engage in dissonance reduction strategies. For example, Mills 1965 manipulates dissonance depending on the difficulty of reaching a decision. More-difficult decisions are assumed to arouse more dissonance. In reviewing the methods used in cognitive dissonance research, scholars often note the creative and in-depth designs utilized (see Psychological Inquiry 1992, cited under General Overviews). More-recent scholarship has examined ways to directly assess whether dissonance is experienced. Elkin and Leippe 1986 discusses the measurement of arousal caused by dissonance. Elliot and Devine 1994 provides a self-report measure of dissonance.

                                                                                                                                  • Elkin, Roger A., and Michael R. Leippe. 1986. Physiological arousal, dissonance, and attitude change: Evidence for a dissonance-arousal link and a “don’t remind me” effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51.1: 55–65.

                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.51.1.55Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    Finds that conditions expected to give rise to dissonance also give rise to physiological arousal. Dissonance reduction strategies, however, do not seem to reduce this arousal.

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                                                                                                                                    • Elliot, Andrew J., and Patricia G. Devine. 1994. On the motivational nature of cognitive dissonance: Dissonance as psychological discomfort. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67.3: 382–394.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.67.3.382Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      Elliot and Devine propose and test a self-report measure of the psychological discomfort resulting from dissonance. The authors advocate that this measure could be used as a manipulation check for studies aiming to manipulate the experience of dissonance.

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                                                                                                                                      • Mills, Judson. 1965. The effect of certainty on exposure to information prior to commitment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 1.4: 348–355.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1016/0022-1031(65)90014-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        Serves as an example of one way dissonance was manipulated in early cognitive dissonance studies. Mills had subjects choose between either (a) two products that they found similarly attractive or (b) two products that they found differentially attractive. The former is expected to produce more dissonance than the latter.

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