Understanding Cognitive Dissonance Activity

This activity is designed to help students process and consider experiences of dissonance when discussing stereotyping and prejudice.


Students will learn about cognitive dissonance via an experiential activity, adapted from Carkenord and Bullington (1993), that induces cognitive dissonance. Students will discuss the feelings of anxiety and discomfort that arise when dissonance is operating . They will consider the strategies people use to minimize these feelings, such as rationalization, denial, or minimization, and will learn to recognize these feelings and to work through this discomfort.

Estimated Time

10-20 minutes

Group Size

This activity works well with all group sizes


Students first complete the Attitudes Survey and then complete the Behavior Survey, (both adapted from Carkenord and Bullington, 1993).  Ensure they do not see the Behavior Survey ahead of time.  The leader then discusses the results of the survey with the students.  Reassure everyone that cognitive dissonance is a normal human experience and that understanding dissonance can prepare them for handling it the future.  

Bring the activity to a close by passing out or displaying the Cognitive Dissonance figure and by highlighting the need to be “okay” with dissonance and to work through it when discussing topics related to diversity in general or stereotyping and prejudice specifically.