“We have a strong need to be consistent in our views and behavior”

Cognitive Dissonance Reduction

Cognitive Dissonance Reduction

We have a strong need to be consistent in all areas of life — in our words, opinions, beliefs, and behaviour. Therefore, once we make a decision or perform an action, we are very likely to make all future behaviour match this past behaviour. Changing our viewpoints or behaviour creates a fear of being perceived as a flip-flopper.

When there’s a mismatch between our belief and behaviour we experience what Leon Festinger calls a cognitive dissonance. And we have a strong need to solve this dissonance. So when we’ve displayed some kind of behaviour that is not in line with our beliefs, we tend to change our beliefs and keep behaving according to the initially displayed behaviour (Cognitive Dissonance Reduction).


Scientific research example

Road traffic people (researchers) asked a group of homeowners to place a large “Drive Carefully” sign on their front lawn:
=> Only 17% agreed

They also asked a second group of homeowners to place this sign on their beautiful lawns.
=> 76% of people were ok

Self-consistency bias

Self-consistency bias

What was the difference between these two groups in this classic experiment by Freedman & Fraser? Why the startling difference in response?

Two weeks earlier, a different volunteer had asked this second group to display a tiny 3-inch sign that read BE A SAFE DRIVER. This request was so small, so reasonable, so easy to agree to, that almost everyone agreed. This mental foot-in-the-door technique made homeowners view themselves as socially responsible and safety-aware, hence a request for a larger favour a few weeks later didn’t startle them.


Online Persuasion tips:

If you need ‘consistent behaviour’:

  • Ask a small request before your big one (newsletter subscription, trial, poll, …).
  • Remember returning visitors of their previous visit (welcome back! recently viewed items, etc.).
  • Emphasize existing client relations (recently bought, ‘My environment’, ).


If you need ‘inconsistent behaviour’:

  • Emphasize that the previous decision was 100% logical ‘under the previous circumstances’, then prove circumstances radically changed…
  • Provide small steps (that are each relatively less ‘inconsistent’).


A/B Experiment

Online Questionnaires can be used for 2 purposes: Acquiring customer insights, and boosting conversions. Visitors entering the website either have to close the questionnaire popup, or answer the questionnaire in order to proceed. This forced click might subconsciously activate a self-consistency process: ‘I am someone who interacts with this website’.

Online Dialogue tested the conversion effects of online questionnaires for several clients. For example on Kras.nl.

Online questionnaire - self-consistency

Online questionnaire – self-consistency

Compared to visitors who do not get the lightbox questionnaire, visitors who get the lightbox convert significantly better!

  • Visitors who directly close the popup convert 30% more
  • Visitors who answer the questions convert 77% more


Understand Customers Like A Behavioral Scientist!

=> Follow my course ‘Master of Online Persuasion & Experience Design’ with:

  • 18:30 hr of short videos
  • Over 100 tactics for persuasion & nudging
  • Over 20 frameworks and models from behavioral science
  • and lots of A/B-test examples
  • A full course book, and
  • 8 pdf’s with Key Takeaways
  • live Q&A sessions
  • Your ‘Master’ certificate


Master of Online Persuasion

Or download the brochure


Further reading on self-consistency: