I found an offer on a nice bottle of good white sparkling wine on the shelf of Tesco on a special price offer. On my way to the checkout while finishing my shopping I began to think about getting home, put the bottle in the fridge in order to get it fresh while preparing dinner and having a glass of it with my friend as an “aperitivo” with some nibbles and canapes before dinner. Once at the checkout and the cashier scanned the wine the price that came out was not the one I saw but it was more expensive (apparently somebody did not put it back on the right place) there was a difference of about £ 3…I could have left it, take another cheaper bottle but…No I took it, but why? If the correct price has been on the shelf (or the bottle on the right price tag) I would not have considered buy it…so what’s happened?
Apparently it all come to Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance theory that suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). So when our feelings and reality are in conflict you must find a way to lesser the discomfort that it causes us.
In the case of consumer behaviour that means that we will go ahead in order to reduce the dissonance created by the anticipation of the expectations and benefits that makes us feel more committed to the purchase. Where dissonance arrived its higher level, and will invalidate its decision or change its behaviour (Brehm & Cohen, 1962).
A Cialdini, Cacioppo, Bassett, and Miller (1978) study on two group of students is an example of cognitive dissonance low balling technique. One group was asked to come for a psychology study at 7 am, only 24% accepted. The second group was asked the same thing but without telling them the time 56% accepted and only after they have agreed to take part in the study they were told the time (7am) and that if they wanted they could still withdraw, the result was that nobody did. On the day of the actual test 95% of the second group showed up.
Cognitive Dissonance can be use also in the recruiting process for example Zappo’s a US online shoe company. After a 2 weeks training the potential customer service candidates are offered two options either sign a contract with Zappos or take 2000$ and reject the job. That has two advantages first to stop candidates that are not 100% interested in working with them and second to create cognitive dissonance because even if in a moment in time they will regret not having accepted the money they will persuade themselves that they must have been a good reason (they love their job and Zappos…) to so otherwise they wouldn’t have denied the 2000$.