Why are attitude–behaviour inconsistencies uncomfortable? Using motivational theories to explore individual differences in dissonance arousal and motivation to compensate


Using cognitive dissonance theories and self-determination theory, we explored the role of individual differences in global and contextual motivational orientations on dissonance arousal processes following spontaneous attitude–behaviour inconsistencies (ABIs). Study 1 (N = 382) showed that individual differences in global motivation relate to the frequency of ABIs and dissonance arousal across important life domains. Studies 2 (N = 282) and 3 (N = 202) showed that individual differences in contextual motivation toward the environment predict the relative frequency of ABIs and the quantity and quality of proximal motivation to compensate for ABIs in that context. Autonomous motivation was associated with a tendency to compensate for ABIs to both reduce dissonance and restore self-integrity. Controlled motivation disposed individuals to reduce dissonance to protect ego-invested self-structures, and to be indifferent to non self-threatening ABIs. Amotivation left people indifferent to ABIs. Individual differences in motivational orientations could explain why ABIs are uncomfortable and motivate people to compensate differently when they face ABIs.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Excluded participants (n = 217) reported similar levels of global motivation and self-consciousness as included participants (n = 382; see Table 1), and there were no differences in gender or first language composition across the two groups (α = .05).

  2. 2.

    Compared to participants who were included in analyses (n = 282; see Table 2), participants who were excluded from analyses (n = 57, M = 4.25, SD = 1.09) reported weaker pro-environmental attitudes, t(337) = −2.55, p = .01, 95 % CI [−.68, −.09], d = 0.28. There were no group differences on scores of global or contextual motivation, self-consciousness, or the relative frequency of counter-environmental actions, or in gender or first language composition (α = .05).

  3. 3.

    The intended scale was 0–21 to allow for frequencies of up to three times per day. However, due to a typo, the actual scale was 0–20. Because we computed a ratio score, we assumed the error had a negligible impact on the reliability of the scores.

  4. 4.

    Festinger (1957) did not explicitly theorize about the relationship between attitude importance and the incidence of spontaneous attitude-behaviour inconsistencies. However, previous research implies that strong attitudes characterized by high confidence (i.e., certainty) and a wide latitude of rejection (i.e., extremity) bolster attitude-behaviour consistency (Fazio and Zanna 1978). These two attitudinal dimensions are captured by the measure of pro-environmental attitude strength used in this study.

  5. 5.

    Compared to participants who were included in analyses (n = 202; see Table 3), those who were excluded from analyses (n = 57, M = 0.39, SD = 0.23) reported greater amotivation toward the environment, t(253) = 2.37, p = .02, 95 % CI [.01, .16], d = .30. There were no group differences on scores of autonomous or controlled motivation toward the environment or in gender or first language composition (α = .05).


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This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. SSHRC-435-2013-0997) and conducted at the University of Ottawa as part of the first author’s doctoral thesis project. The University of Alberta is the first author’s current affiliation. We wish to thank the Human Motivation Research Laboratory research assistants and trainees who provided assistance with this research.

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Correspondence to Karine J. Lavergne.

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Lavergne, K.J., Pelletier, L.G. Why are attitude–behaviour inconsistencies uncomfortable? Using motivational theories to explore individual differences in dissonance arousal and motivation to compensate. Motiv Emot 40, 842–861 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-016-9577-3

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  • Cognitive dissonance theory
  • Action-based model of dissonance
  • Self-determination theory
  • Dissonance arousal
  • Attitude–behaviour consistency