Sensation, Emotion and Cognitive Dissonance


Sensation can be defined as individual capacity to sense the world. Each and every motivated individual senses the world, interprets it, responds to it and reacts to the results of his own responses. Every individual has capacity to sense cold and hot, pressure etc. But how he/she senses these things or in which way he senses these things affect his behavior. As for example, if an individual senses too cold, his behavior is wants of warmth cloths. Similarly inside the organization, now the employee senses the environment and mould the behavior of the employee. Sensation has three factors to work. They are: 
  • Stimulus 
  • Receptor 
  • Nervous system 
Stimulus are the inputs that are sensed and received by the receptor organ and transmitted to the nervous system for further processing to draw out the meaningful result.

Sensation may be described as the response of a physical sensory organ. The physical senses are vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. These senses are bombarded by stimuli continuously, both internal and external to human body and reactions particular sense organ take place because of these. In other words, sensation is the immediate and direct response of the sensory organs to stimuli. Human sensitivity refers to the experience of sensation. Sensitivity to stimuli varies with the quality of an individual’s sensory receptors (e.g., eye sight or hearing) and the amount of intensity of the stimuli to which he is exposed. For example, a blind person may have a more highly developed sense of hearing than the average sighted person and may be able to hear sounds that the average person cannot. These examples show that sensation deals very elementary behavior that is determine by physiological functioning. Sometimes, confusion arises between sensation and perception as both are the cognitive processes and both are beads of the same string. Sensation involves detecting the presence of a stimulus whereas perception involves understanding what the stimulus means. For example, when we see something, the visual stimulus is the light energy reflected from the external world and the eye becomes the sensor. The visual image of the external thing becomes perception when it is interpreted in the visual cortex of the brain. Thus, visual perception refers to interpreting the image of the external world projected on the retina of the eye and constructing a model of the three dimensional world. Sensation itself depends on energy change or differentiation of input. Regardless of the strength of the sensory input, provides little or no sensation at all.

The distinction between sensation and perception may be made as follows:
  1. The person is comparatively inactive in sensation whereas he becomes more active in perception because he tries to know the meaning of sensation in this process.
  2. Sensation is a simple mental process whereas perception is comparatively a complex mental phenomenon. Perception is a complex process because it is affected by a number of variables.
  3. Sensation may be considered as a part of perception because the former is the first stage of the latter. The first experience of stimulation is sensation. Only our organs and nerves are active in sensation but all our body becomes active in perception.
  4. By sensation, the person just becomes cautious of the quality of stimulus; he just becomes aware of the stimulus like color, form, shape, smell, and meaning of the stimulus. By perception, he derives meaning of these.


Emotions are intense feelings that are directed at someone or something. They are object specific. In other words, emotions are reactions to an object. It is a neural impulse that moves an organism to action. Emotions have three components:
1. Cognitive Component
Cognitive component includes the conscious experience of emotions, and the way we ‘label’ our emotions.

2. Physiological Component
Physiological component includes emotional arousal. Different emotions have different arousal. For example, fear, anger and sadness increase heart rate, anger raises blood pressure etc.

3. Expressive Component
Expression component includes body language (gaze, gestures, posture and walk) and para-language (intonation, fakes smile versus genuine smile, etc.)

There are four related terms (affect, emotion, feeling and mood) that need to be differentiated from each other. ‘affect’ is a generic term that covers a broad range of feeling that people experience. It covers emotions, feelings and moods. Emotions are intense feelings that are directed to someone or something. In other words, emotions are specific and intense, and are a reaction to a particular event. Feelings are personal and biographical factors that arouses from any event or from any object. Finally moods are feelings that tend to be less intense that emotions and that lack a contextual stimulus. In other words, moods are diffused and unfocused. It is useful to understand the concept of primary and secondary emotions.

1. Primary Emotions
Primary emotions are those that we feel first, as a first response to a situation. Thus, if we are threatened, we may feel fear. When we hear of a death, we may feel sad. They are our instinctive responses. Typical primary emotions include fear, anger, sadness, and happiness (although these can also be felt as secondary emotions). The problem sometimes with primary emotions is that they disappear as fast as they appear.

2. Secondary Emotions
Secondary emotions appear after primary emotions. They may be caused directly by them for example, where the fear of a threat turns to anger that fuels the body for a fight reaction. They may also come from more complex chains of thought. The secondary emotions give a picture of the person’s mental processing of the primary emotion.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the state experienced by individuals when they discover inconsistency between two attitudes they hold or between their attitudes and their behavior. Here, dissonance means an inconsistency. It occurs most often in situations where an individual must choose between two incompatible beliefs or actions. In other words, cognitive dissonance refers to any incompatibility that an individual might perceive between two or more of his/her attitudes or between his/her behavior and attitudes. The greatest dissonance is created when the two alternatives are equally attractive.

The concept or theory of cognitive dissonance was first developed by Leon Festinger in 1957. According to this theory, individuals tend seek consistency among their cognition (i.e. opinions, knowledge and beliefs). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors, something must change to eliminate the dissonance. There are three ways to eliminate dissonance.
  1. Change the dissonant beliefs so that they are no longer inconsistent.
  2. Reduce the importance of dissonant beliefs.
  3. Add more consonant beliefs that outweigh the dissonant beliefs.
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