"Cognitive dissonance is a motivational state brought about when a person has cognitive elements that imply the opposite of one another" (Wicklund and Brehm 10). In the search to understand the causes of events, people seem disposed to explain them in terms of the personal characteristics of those associated with the events. First, explaining events in terms of persons permits a simpler organization of the world than does an extended and differentiated causal analysis. It is easier to view the person as the cause than to track down and keep in mind numerous other factors. Third, attribution to persons makes irreversible events appear to be reversible, even if only symbolically. For example, Wicklund and Brehm (2001) suggest that revenge is a symbolic reversing of events. A need for justice may promote attribution to persons in another way. In order to preserve a belief that the world is just, critics perceive those who receive good outcomes as good persons and those who receive bad outcomes as bad. Lerner and his colleagues have gathered considerable support for this idea (Walster 87).
There is the importance of both choice and high self-esteem for causing dissonance from engaging in harmful, attitudinal behavior. Only for people high in self-esteem, it is reasoned, would such an action be inconsistent with the self-concept and likely to produce dissonance. The theory could handle the results by arguing that, given choice, an outside observer would more confidently infer that the person truly disliked the victim if his conception of his personality was such that he could act confidently on his principles and beliefs. In any event, for present purposes the experiment demonstrates again that our own behavior and the circumstances in which it occurs can significantly affect liking for another person (Festinger 33).
For instance, success and failure may be taken as signs of an individual's merits beyond what a rational analysis would call for. Outcomes may influence the esteem in which the person is held by others and that he feels for himself. The impact of the outcome on self-esteem may be greater to the extent that the outcome is attributed to the person. The desire to deny responsibility for bad outcomes, may really be the desire to protect self-esteem from the negative implication of producing bad effects. And taking credit for good acts can be regarded as an attempt to enhance self-esteem. Thus, cognitive dissonance may be a way to enhance or preserve self-esteem (Walster 87). In true cognitive dissonance, threat to self-esteem depends on two necessary factors. One is that the outcome must be attributed to the person. The other is that the attribution made must be relevant to the person's self-esteem. If either factor is absent, there is no threat. Critics and psychologists will call these factors the outcome/attribution factor and the attribution/self-esteem factor. If both are present to some degree, the threat to self-esteem depends on the strength of each factor. The threat is greater, the