This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study explored the neural substrates of cognitive dissonance during dissonance "induction." A novel task was developed based on the results of a separate item selection study (n = 125). Items were designed to generate dissonance by prompting participants to reflect on everyday personal experiences that were inconsistent with values they had expressed support for. One experimental condition (dissonance) and three control conditions (justification, consonance, and non-self-related inconsistency) were used for comparison. Items of all four types were presented to each participant (n = 14) in a randomized design. The fMRI analysis used a whole-brain approach focusing on the moments dissonance was induced. Results showed that in comparison with the control conditions the dissonance experience led to higher levels of activation in several brain regions. Specifically dissonance was associated with increased neural activation in key brain regions including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), anterior insula, inferior frontal gyrus, and precuneus. This supports current perspectives that emphasize the role of anterior cingulate and insula in dissonance processing. Less extensive activation in the prefrontal cortex than in some previous studies is consistent with this study's emphasis on dissonance induction, rather than reduction. This article also contains a short review and comparison with other fMRI studies of cognitive dissonance.
Keywords: Anterior cingulate cortex; Cognitive conflict; Cognitive dissonance; Dissonance induction; Insula; fMRI.