Festinger explains that we strive for cognitive consistency, or a situation where our beliefs reflect our attitudes. When two or more cognitions (beliefs, behaviors, emotions, values) go against one another, we are said to be in a state of cognitive dissonance. The bigger the magnitude of dissonance, the more we are driven to reduce it.
In the case of the hardcore apocalypse believers, their belief in the prophecy heavily contradicted their observation of what actually occurred (nothing). Hence, they were driven to reduce this tension by rationalizing their original belief. Other ways we reduce cognitive dissonance include avoiding the dissonance, changing our beliefs or attitudes and, hardest of all, integrating the opposing beliefs and actions.
- Festinger, Leon & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203-210.
- Mcleod, Sara. (2008) Cognitive Dissonance. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from Simply Psychology website: http://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html.
- Meek, W. (2010, January 10). Resolving Cognitive Dissonance. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from Will Meek, PhD website: http://willmeekphd.com/item/resolving-cognitive-dissonance.
- Rudolph, F.M. Cognitive Dissonance. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from Ithaca College website: http://www.ithaca.edu/faculty/stephens/cdback.html.