Memory distortion and attitude change – two routes to cognitive balance

Anne Berthold, Hartmut Blank

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We report novel research investigating memory distortion as an alternative route to cognitive balance (Heider, 1958), comparing it to attitude change as a well-known balancing mechanism. Participants received statements from multiple communicators about a controversial topic (national pride in Study 1 and climate protection in Study 2) and remembered these statements immediately or one week later. This resulted in initially balanced or unbalanced combinations of the liking for individual communicators and the communicators’ statements and in subsequent balance increases due to liking change or misremembering of statements. The contribution of memory distortion to balance was significant but weaker and less efficient than that of liking change, and the contributions were empirically independent (i.e., uncorrelated and differentially related to third variables – specifically, memory strength and individual cognitive consistency motivation). They also had a different temporal trajectory (liking change fast, memory distortion slow). We discuss theoretical and practical implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-208
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date13 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • liking
  • attitudes
  • memory
  • cognitive consistency
  • memory distortion


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