Purpose: Clinical psychology may not be making full use of the experimental psychological research available to it. The purpose of this article is to review the literature on cognitive dissonance in order to assess its usefulness in developing and deconstructing clinical psychological therapies and practice.
Methods: Experimental, theoretical and review articles were examined in relation to their possible clinical implications, and included in this review if they related to the arousal, maintenance and reduction of the state termed cognitive dissonance. Well replicated findings based on experimentally sound paradigms were integrated to produce an overall view of the evidence in favour of the existence of these processes, and of the principles behind them.
Results: It is concluded that there is an effect on attitudes and behaviour of creating inconsistency in individuals, and that this is not explained away by alternative theories, which in many cases refer to special conditions which maximally arouse dissonance. The dissonant state lasts for a few minutes, but its effects can last for up to two weeks, and might be reinstated by reintroducing the original inconsistency. Individuals can react to dissonance through a variety of cognitive alterations which reinstate consistency. The choice of response is a function of its salience and the difficulty in its execution.
Conclusions: The literature supports the existence of the phenomenon termed cognitive dissonance, and one can distil the principles underlying its production, maintenance and reduction. This body of literature may provide insights into the conduct of therapy generally, as well as into the mechanisms of specific therapies which may guide modifications or development of alternative interventions.