Leon Festinger Biography (1919-1989)

Best Known For:

Birth and Death:

  • Leon Festinger was born May 8, 1919.
  • He died on February 11, 1989.

Life and Career:

Leon Festinger was born in New York City and later went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree from City College of New York in 1939. In 1942, he completed his Ph.D. in psychology from Iowa State University where he studied with prominent social psychologist Kurt Lewin.

Festinger then went on to teach at a number of different academic institutions including the University of Rochester, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, Stanford University and the New School for Social Research.

Contributions to Psychology:

Leon Festinger is perhaps best known for his theory of cognitive dissonance. According to this theory, people experience tension or discomfort when their beliefs do not match their behaviors. People tend to seek consistency in their beliefs and perceptions. So what happens when one of our beliefs conflicts with another previously held belief? When there is a discrepancy between beliefs or behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance.

Festinger is also known for his social comparison theory, which describes the process through which people come to know themselves by evaluating their own attitudes, abilities and beliefs in comparison with others.

Select Publications by Leon Festinger:

  • Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson.
  • Festinger, L. (1950). lnformal social communication. Psychological Review, 57, 271-282.
  • Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117–140.
  • Festinger, L., Schachter, S., & Back, K. (1948). Social Pressures in Informal Groups. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


Milite, G. A. (2001). Festinger, Leon (1919-1989). Encyclopedia of Psychology. Found online at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2699/is_0004/ai_2699000466/

Stanley S. (1994). Leon Festinger. Biographical Memoirs, 64, 99-111.

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