What is cognitive dissonance?


What is cognitive dissonance?

In: 37

It’s when you have conflicting views that distress you.

Example: you love animals, and also love meat. If you think about where your meat comes from, you may be distressed because an animal died. But you still love animals and meat, even though they “contradict” each other.

Another example: you are a pacifist but also extremely nationalistic. If you are drafted into a war, you’re going to want to fight to defend your country, but also don’t want to fight, as it involves killing.

It’s basically when someone acts or believes something contrary to their other values and then internally ignores or rationalises the contradiction somehow.

Like, claiming to love all people equally and then saying something discriminatory and trying to justify it in line with loving all people equally.

Imagine you had a belief. Something like “The world will end on November 3rd.”

Now, Nov. 3rd comes and goes and the world doesn’t end.

What you might think would happen is you would realize you were mistaken and admit you were wrong and move on. However, if the original belief was something very important to you, or something that you had made part of your personality, then you may have a great deal of trouble letting that belief go. You are in a state of cognitive dissonance.

It should be noted that cognitive dissonance is an almost entirely subconscious thing. If you were fully aware it was happening, it would be easier to resolve.

What can cognitive dissonance lead to? Well, in my example above the person could deny they made a prediction, insist they didn’t mean the current Nov. 3rd but some future Nov. 3rd, or maybe insist the world really did “end” but in a spiritual or metaphysical way that only special people like them have noticed.

Note: my example above is (loosly) based on a real study published in a book called “When Prophesy Fails” written in the 1950’s that popularized the term “cognitive dissonance.”

He’s an example I remember from my textbook. Let’s say you are really passionate about protecting the environment. But after a picnic outdoors you don’t take your trash to the garbage can, you just threw it on the ground. You feel guilty for doing that. The guilt you feel from discrepancy between your values (environmental protection) and your actions (littering) is cognitive dissonance.

The question is, how does this dissonance motivate you to alleviate that guilt? Do you change your behavior, for example, by going back and picking up after your trash properly? Or does it make you change your underlying belief system (“maybe protecting the environment wasn’t so important to me after all”).