The research reported in this book spans a period of roughly 18 years, years which have marked the emergence of social psychology as a vital experimental discipline. The stimulus of dissonance theory had much to do with this emergence. Not only has dissonance theory provided a substantive focus for researchers in the field, but much of the research partakes of a style that provides a paradigm for other research efforts as well. Without great strain one can see in this research style the fruition of the kind of theory-based experimentation envisaged, but never really realized, by Kurt Lewin. In particular, the idea of a highly general theory being tested in a variety of socially interesting domains exemplifies Lewin's proposed paradigm: the conceptual replication of an abstract functional relation in different concrete life spaces.
Leon Festinger's 1957 book presented a simple theoretical notion that many thought was implicit in the writings of Heider, Lecky, and others. There was nothing very new about the idea that cognitive inconsistency was unpleasant, and it was not a great step to suggest that it was motivating. The presentation of the theory was neither rhetorically compelling nor convincingly buttressed with experimental data generated by the theory. And yet, the fuller implications of this new presentation of a consistency theory were tantalizing indeed. This modest book crept up on the reader and eventually enthralled him in sets of intriguing and testable paradoxes.
Further construction on Festinger's scaffold required the intricate interplay of experimental data and theory. First there was a reaching out process-into those different life spaces Lewin wrote about. Jack Brehm and his Yale colleagues began exploring the implications of dissonance theory for attitude change. Judson Mills brought the power of the theory to focus on value internalization. Elliot Aronson attacked the principle of effort leading to attraction. Festinger himself moved with Lawrence into the area of animal behavior in all attempt to explain a number of learning phenomena in dissonance terms.