This preregistered study uses a combination of physiological measures to explore both the activation and reduction components of cognitive dissonance theory. More precisely, we use skin conductance to identify dissonance arousal, a short-term affective response to counter-attitudinal stimuli, and then use heart rate variability to measure dissonance reduction, which reflects longer-term patterns of emotional regulation and information processing. Our preliminary tests find weak evidence of dissonance arousal and no evidence of dissonance reduction using this physiological approach. We consequently reconsider (albeit optimistically) the use of physiology in future work on cognitive dissonance. We also discuss the implications of our findings for selective exposure and motivated reasoning.
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Vol. 40 • No. 2