cognitive dissonance theory
a theory of attitude formation and behavior describing a motivational state that exists when a person's cognitive elements (attitudes, perceived behaviors, etc.) are inconsistent with each other (dissonance), such as the espousal of the Ten Commandments concurrent with the belief that it is all right to cheat on one's taxes, and indicating that people try to achieve consistency (consonance) by changing attitudes, rationalizing, selective perception, and other means.
Synonym(s): cognitive dissonance
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