Explaining Attitudes from Behavior: A Cognitive Dissonance Approach


Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. 2018. “Explaining Attitudes from Behavior: A Cognitive Dissonance Approach.” Journal of Politics 80 (2): 400-411. Copy at https://j.mp/2nzw6SY


The standard approach in positive political theory posits that action choices are the consequences of preferences. Social psychology—in particular, cognitive dissonance theory—suggests the opposite: preferences may themselves be affected by action choices. We present a formal framework that applies this idea to three models of political choice: (1) one in which partisanship emerges naturally in a two party system despite policy being multi-dimensional, (2) one in which interactions with people who express different views can lead to empathetic changes in political positions, and (3) one in which ethnic or racial hostility increases after acts of violence. These examples demonstrate how incorporating the insights of social psychology can expand the scope of formalization in political science.

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Last updated on 09/28/2018