Congruity Theory Explained


When a group has their social roles recognized as being matched to their characteristics, then this will create a positive evaluation. Because of this, the unconscious bias that exists within individuals and at a societal level creates inconsistencies with the evaluation process. Those inconsistencies create a prejudice toward certain individuals.

Women in leadership are the most common group to experience this prejudice. Because the characteristics of the gender stereotype clash with the characteristics of the typical leader, the evaluation provided to women in leadership tends to be negative. Another group that experiences a negative outcome would be stay-at-home fathers who attempt to re-enter the work force after a long gap to raise their children.

This is what Congruity theory looks at. It is a consistency theory that looks at the cognitions of a person’s mind and how they are applied.

Why Is Consistency Important in the Congruity Theory?

The basic idea of any consistency theory, including the Congruity theory, is that the human mind strives for harmony. The goal is to create consistency for each individual thought. Should an inconsistency become present, then the mind strives to turn that inconsistency back into a consistent structure.

The Congruity theory suggests that the mind creates “logical” links between ideas to create consistency.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that you like to play basketball and watch NBA games when they are televised. You don’t like the Golden State Warriors as your favorite team, but you do really like Stephen Curry.

Under Armour releases a series of shoes that are endorsed by Curry. He wears them out on the court when he plays. You see them and because he’s wearing them, you decide that you like them too. Because Under Armour makes the shoes, you also decide to become a supporter of that brand.

You might cheer for the Milwaukee Bucks, because you can rationalize the inconsistency of liking a different player because you see him as better. That creates a consistent attitude, which does not require open-mindedness to be present.

It is this process that women face in the workplace, especially in leadership positions, and why the Congruity theory is so important to know.

The Importance of Persuasive Messages in the Congruity Theory

A persuasive message is information that is provided by a resource that attempts to change our minds about a specific subject. The chances are good that you’ve seen numerous persuasive messages regarding politics on your Facebook feed in the last 12 months.

Persuasive messages can have a positive or a negative impact on the human mind. If the message agrees with how we think or feel, then it reinforces our personal beliefs. If it disagrees with how we think or feel, then a discrepancy is created.
Reinforcement creates pleasure. Discrepancies create displeasure.

For women in leadership roles, society has one definition of what a woman should be like and women who seek out leadership roles have a different definition. Each subgroup in a society may have slightly different expectations for women as well.

If a person’s society sees women being successful when they are “barefoot and pregnant” at home, subservient to the wishes of a man, then a strong female leader will create a discrepancy for that person. The discrepancy will create displeasure. In the mind of that person, they need to restore harmony.

They do that by providing negative feedback to the individual that caused the discrepancy. In this instance, it would be the female leader.

Congruity theory works in reverse as well. For a woman who grew up in a society were leadership roles were expected of her, the thought of only being allowed to be “barefoot and pregnant” would create a discrepancy as well. Her response would be the same. She would seek to eliminate the displeasure caused by the discrepancy by initiating negative feedback for the person causing it.

How Congruity Theory Can Lead to Attitude Change

Once we recognize the triggers which cause discrepancies to form, we can then adapt our behaviors to avoid the negative feedback that we use to create harmony once again. It becomes possible to recognize the discrepancy and change the feedback to a positive encounter.

It also becomes possible to look at the nature of evidence that exists within messages once a trigger can be recognized. For women in leadership positions, the evidence of their success and ability to lead can be used as evidence to show that someone who was brought up with the “barefoot and pregnant” belief can be persuaded to accept women in additional roles.

If a person has closed their mind, then Congruity theory will struggle to be effective. Facts must outweigh personal beliefs. Should that not occur, then negative feedback becomes the only source of relief.