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Consistency Theory

 

Explanations > Theories > Consistency Theory

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

When our inner systems (beliefs, attitudes, values, etc.) all support one another and when these are also supported by external evidence, then we have a comfortable state of affairs. The discomfort of cognitive dissonance occurs when things fall out of alignment, which leads us to try to achieve a maximum practical level of consistency in our world.

We also have a very strong need to believe we are being consistent with social norms. When there is conflict between behaviors that are consistent with inner systems and behaviors that are consistent with social norms, the potential threat of social exclusion often sways us towards the latter, even though it may cause significant inner dissonance.

Ways we achieve consistency between conflicting items include:

  • Denial or ignoring : 'I didn't see it happen.'
  • Rationalization and excuses : 'It was going to fall anyway.'
  • Separation of items :'I don't use my car enough to make a difference .'
  • Transcendence : 'Nobody is perfect.'
  • Changing item : 'I'll be more careful next time.'
  • Persuasion : 'I'm good, really, aren't I?'

Example

If you make a promise, you will feel bad if you do not keep it.

So what?

Using it

Highlight where people are acting inconsistently with beliefs, etc. that support your arguments. Show how what you want is consistent with the other person’s inner systems and social norms.

Defending

You will always be inconsistent in some areas. When changing to fit in with the inconsistencies that someone else is pointing out, think about the other, potentially more serious, inconsistencies that you will be opening up.

See also

Attribution Theory, Cognitive Dissonance, Counter-Attitudinal Advocacy (CAA), Social Norms

http://www.as.wvu.edu/~sbb/comm221/chapters/consist.htm

References

Festinger (1957), Heider (1958)

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