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Cognitive Balance Theory (Heider)

Paul T. Munroe

Subject Clinical Psychology » Mental Health
Sociology » Social Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Balance theory explains how people tend to maintain consistency in patterns of their liking and disliking of one another and of inanimate objects. When patterns of liking and disliking are balanced, structures are stable. When they are imbalanced, structures are unstable and there is pressure to change in the direction that makes them balanced. It was the social psychologist Fritz Heider who, in 1946, founded the now widely studied theoretical research program known as balance theory. In balance theory's early statements, for example in “Attitudes and Cognitive Organization” (1946), Heider was interested in the perceptions of a person, p , with respect to another person, o , and an object of mutual interest, x , which could also be a third person. Heider noted that the patterns of perceived relationships among the three entities could be in one of two states: balanced or imbalanced. Imbalanced states produce tension which may be resolved by changing the relations or by distancing oneself from the situation. Consider three entities: p (person), o (other), and x (an object of interest). Heider identifies three possible relationships among them, L (likes), ∼L (dislikes), and U (forms a unit relationship with; i.e., is associated with, owns, or possesses). Accordingly, “ p L o ” means “ p likes o ”; “ o ∼L x ” means “ o dislikes x ”; and “ p U x ” means “ p forms ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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