Magazine article Journal of Services Research

Cognitive Dissonance and the Marketing of Services: Some Issues

Magazine article Journal of Services Research

Cognitive Dissonance and the Marketing of Services: Some Issues

Article excerpt


The subject of cognitive dissonance is an important one yet there is little research and discussion on cognitive dissonance in services. The authors examine the literature on cognitive dissonance and marketing of services and propose some research propositions.

Cognitive dissonance is a term coined by Leon Festinger in the year 1957. It describes a psychologically uncomfortable state or imbalance that is produced when various cognitions about a thing are not consistent. The classic example of inconsistent cognitions are the knowledge that smoking is injurious to health, the belief that smoking gives pleasure and the need to smoke. Cognitive dissonance leads to motivations to reduce dissonance.

Services are "deeds, process and performances" (Zeithaml and Beitner, 2006, p 3). Their characteristics of intangibility, heterogeneity, inseparability from producer, and perishability dictate that their marketing treatment is different from that required by physical goods.

The issues discussed in this paper are specific and precise. How do the different characteristics of services influence the likelihood of cognitive dissonance? What is the likelihood of cognitive dissonance in services of different types? Are the strategies for reducing cognitive dissonance likely to be affected by characteristics of services? What are the implications of the theory of cognitive dissonance for the advertising of services? Do advertisements of services incorporate measures to address cognitive dissonance among recent buyers?

This research effort is a response not only to the calls for more research in the area of cognitive dissonance but also a response to the ever-increasing importance of services. The impact of services on the world economy is huge and growing (Javalgi and White, 2002). Services are making a significant contribution to the Indian economy by constituting more than 50% of GDP.

Earlier researchers have pointed out at the need for more research in the area of cognitive dissonance. According to O' Neill and Palmer (2004, p 435)?. "dissonance theory remains under-researched and the effects of the construct misunderstood, in the field of consumer marketing". Souter and Sweeney (2003, p 242) issue a "clear call for management attention to dissonance". According to them dissonance should be of concern because results of empirical research conducted by them revealed that a significant number of consumers experienced some form of dissonance. The review of literature conducted by Soutor and Sweeney (2003) led them to believe that consumers are more likely to experience dissonance because in the current age of consumer empowerment, customers, particularly the younger ones, have more involvement and higher expectation of services. The rise of Internet commerce is another reason leading to increase in cognitive dissonance.

The present researchers conducted an extensive search of literature but were able to identify only one publication-O'Neill and Palmer (2004)- that examined cognitive dissonance with respect to marketing of services.


Leon Festinger's "A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance" was published in 1957. It was backed by a number of elaborate experiments conducted by the author. A succient explanation of the theory is given by Oshikawa (1969, p 429).

"The theory of cognitive dissonance suggests that an individual has cognitive elements (or "knowledges") about himself, his past behaviour, his beliefs and attitudes, and his environments. If one cognitive element follows from another, they are said to be consonant. If one does not follow from another, they are said to be dissonant and arouse a psychological tension called cognitive dissonance. Because cognitive dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable, the individual changes the dissonant cognitive element to reduce the dissonance. The stronger the cognitive dissonance, the more strongly motivated he is to reduce dissonance by changing the cognitive element". …

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