Cognitive Consistency Theory  

          The cognitive consistency theory is a substitute to Hull’s theory and yet it is the basis for equilibrium for individuals.  This theory focuses on the balance individuals create cognitively when inconsistencies create tensions and thus motivate our brains and body to respond.  This theory is very similar to the cognitive dissonance theory of Leon Festinger, which emphasizes the importance of positive and negative outcomes to reduce stressful choices.  Although the cognitive consistency theory touches on this issue, it focuses on the affects of inconsistencies motivating people to react.

            This theory examines how behavioral motivation happens when internal thoughts differ and conflict, resulting in a creation of tension.  This tension is the driving force for a change in behavior to ease the tension.  When the change occurs and a person reacts, then the tension is reduced, bring one to homeostasis.  In the working world, if a person sees something that is contradicting and inconsistent, he/she will be motivated to change the inconsistency and resulting in work.  This theory states that people will naturally see imbalances and correct them through the motivation to make things consistent.

            People need consistency in their lives and this theory shows how people motivate themselves to work and adjust inconsistent measures.  There are three steps to this theory:

  1. People expect consistency.
  2. Inconsistencies create a state of dissonance
  3. Dissonance drives us to restore consistency.

Step one states that people expect and have a preference for consistency in our lives as well as other things in life.  Naturally, people want things to work out according to plan and how it is expected to.  There are physical and psychological consistencies people count on daily.  “Thus, we have “mental worlds” of our expectancies about the world, the people in them, and our relationships with the world and other people.  And the glue that holds all these mental relationships together is consistency…  Consistency becomes like a form of human gravity.  It holds everything down and together.  It helps us to understand the world and our place in it.”

            Step two focuses on the factor that frequently situations arise that are unexpected and sets an inconsistency between what was expected and what actually occurred.  This state that immediately follows the inconsistency is called dissonance.  “Dissonance is the cognitive, emotional, psychological, and behavioral state that arises when things do not go the way we expect them to.”  At the initial recognition of inconsistency, people usually ask the questions “what?” “huh?” “what was that?”  After inconsistency, people try to figure out what was missed or incorrect and this sometimes leads to frustration, anger, nervousness, and other feelings of uneasiness.

            Step three introduces the methods taken which will dissipate dissonance to return one back to equilibrium.  There are numerous ways to cope with dissonance.  The main point is to realize that people are constantly going to use different mental tactics because of the fact that dissonance is unpleasant and an unwanted state.  Regardless of the tactic used, it is imperative that dissonance has dissolved and consistency returns.  The actions taken to get ride of the dissonance state are the motivational measures conducted.  Thus, in the world of work, it is important that individuals are able to control unexpected situations that occur and to also recognize certain consistencies that they might expect.  The following passage from the website entitled Consistency ( demonstrates how people expect and can stereotype specific consistencies:

I met my friend the test pilot, who had just completed an around-the-world flight by balloon.  With the pilot was a little girl of about two.

“What’s her name?” I asked my friend, whom I hadn’t seen in five years and who had married in that time.

“Same as her mother,” the pilot replied.

“Hello, Susan,” I said to the little girl.

How did I know her name if I never saw the wedding announcement?

            This passage is a prime example of how people have certain expectations or consistencies about life.  The pilot was the mother and that is how the friend knew the daughter’s name.  People do not expect the pilot to be a female, for we expect or consistently tend to see that test pilots are males.  Furthermore, it is inconsistent that the daughter is named after the mother, for usually the son is named after the father.  This passage is a prime example of subconsciously recognizing inconsistencies and trying to figure or solve the problem, which motivates people to search for an answer or reason to correct the inconsistency.  This theory can apply to any profession, for once a person recognizes an inconsistent occurrence, almost immediately does he/she become motivated to fix the problem.  Sometimes it is our attitudes that are what needs to alter for these two examples from the passage demonstrate stereotypes, which can be detrimental in some job situations.  Once people realize that some inconsistencies are due to attitudes and perceptions, then changing one’s attitude will help to bring out consistency.


Maslow Theory