Educational Psychology: What is dissonance and how does it apply to the teaching process?



8a iv). Outline the concept of dissonance and how it applies to the teaching process.


Cognitions are said to be dissonant when they are inconsistent. The inconsistency is called dissonance and it is caused by psychological tension arising from mixed feelings. Dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable hence human beings strive hard to remove it.

Examples of dissonance

Having the knowledge that something is bad or harmful yet one continues to indulge in it

    1. the knowledge cigarette smoking is harmful to the lungs, yet I cannot do without my cigarette.
      • The first cognition is that cigarette smoking is harmful. The second cognition is that I smoke.
      • Another example: Excessive drinking of alcohol is harmful to the liver.
      • I love to drink heavily. The first cognition is; excessive consumption of alcohol is harmful the second I love to drink heavily. In both instances the cognitions are dissonant.

Sources of dissonance

Inconsistency with cultural moves. In this case dissonance occurs when one holds beliefs that go against ones culture or religion, particularly when there are strong cultural or religious feelings about an attitude. For example when a country is going to war and every body is in the war mood but there is a person who holds feelings to the contrary.

In school there could be a culture of handwork and seriousness but one student may want to incite the others to strike.

Dissonance can also be caused by inconsistency between a particular behavior and the general trend of behavior. For example a person who is known to be honest or truthful or even obedient at all the times but at one time he is forced to be dishonest, untruthful or disobedient. In a school situation a student may be performing very well academically but suddenly he begins to perform poorly.

How does dissonance cause attitude change?

All situations where dissonance occurs call for rethinking, decision-making, and change of attitude.

    • In school, the teacher could use dissonance to change attitudes in a way that will benefit learning.
    • For example, a teacher who is posted in a new school where the dominant culture is mass failures in his subject can use this approach.
    • He could change the teaching methods.
    • Use teaching aids.
    • Teach in an interesting manner.
    • Initially, give tests that students can pass and then.
    • Increase the level of difficulty as pupils improves their performance. At the end of it all the students will turn around and say ”we had not imagined that math or Chemistry can be this easy or interesting”
    • Dissonance will have worked to change an attitude.



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