Does Minimal Inconsistency Evoke Negative Affect? Report From Three Studies Using an Implicit Measure of Emotion


From cognitive dissonance theory to the meaning maintenance model, most cognitive consistency models suggest that the detection of an inconsistency evokes negative affect. However, there is no consensus on the minimal conditions that are necessary for the occurrence of negative affect. In three studies, we tested whether exposure to minimal inconsistencies, that is, inconsistencies that involve very few cognitions, evokes negative affect. Negative affect was assessed by using an implicit method inspired by the Implicit Positive and Negative Attitude Test. Neither exposure to incorrect basic equations (Study 1, N = 91) nor exposure to Thatcher illusions (Study 2; N = 120) nor exposure to colour-reversed playing cards (Study 3, N = 94) resulted in increased negative affect. An internal meta-analysis of the three studies confirms a likely absence of negative affect (Cohen’s d = 0.05). This absence suggests that more than minimal inconsistency is needed for inconsistency to evoke negative affect. We discuss the likely requirements and the role of negative affect in the cognitive consistency process.

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    We conducted a pretest to ensure the neutrality of the Cambodian words used in Study 3. In a pre-screening, we selected 36 neutral-looking words based on their appearance. Then, 102 participants (Mage = 26; SDage = 7; 79 women) were recruited in an online procedure to rate each word on a positive and a negative four-point scale. After this pretest, the 10 most neutral words, both in terms of valence means and variance, were selected for the study.


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Alexandre Bran is jointly supported by the Association Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique and PACIFICA through the CIFRE grant 2017/0145.

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Correspondence to Alexandre Bran.

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The authors report no conflicts of interest in this work.

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In accordance with French laws concerning research on human participants and with the Comité d’Ethique de la Recherche of University de Paris, no ethics approval was required for the studies presented in this manuscript. All studies have been performed in accordance with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.

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All participants provided written informed consent before participating in any of the presented studies.

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Code for Study 3 can be obtained upon request to the corresponding author.

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Bran, A., Vaidis, D.C. Does Minimal Inconsistency Evoke Negative Affect? Report From Three Studies Using an Implicit Measure of Emotion. Psychol Stud (2021).

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  • Consistency
  • Affect
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Cognitive conflict
  • Implicit measures