What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

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What is cognitive dissonance?

The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe mental discomfort caused by holding two opposing beliefs, values, or attitudes. People tend to seek consistency in their attitudes and perceptions, so this conflict causes feelings of discomfort or discomfort.

The inconsistency between what people believe and how they behave motivates people to engage in actions that will help reduce feelings of discomfort. People try to relieve this stress in a variety of ways, such as denying, explaining, or avoiding new information.

Signs of cognitive dissonance

Everyone experiences cognitive dissonance to some degree, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to spot. Some signs that what you’re feeling may be related to discord include:

  • Feeling uncomfortable before doing something or making a decision
  • Trying to justify or rationalize a decision you made or an action you took
  • Feeling ashamed or embarrassed about something you did and trying to hide your actions from others
  • Feeling guilty or regretful about something you did in the past
  • Do things because of social pressure or fear of missing out (FOMO), even if it’s not what you want to do

Causes of cognitive dissonance

There are a number of different situations that can create conflict leading to cognitive dissonance.

Compulsory compliance

You may sometimes find yourself engaging in behaviors that are contrary to your own beliefs due to external expectations, usually towards work, school, or a social situation.This could involve going along with something due to peer pressure or doing something at work to avoid getting fired.

New information

Sometimes learning new information can lead to feelings of cognitive dissonance. For example, if you engage in a behavior that you later learn is harmful, it can lead to feelings of discomfort. Sometimes people deal with this by finding ways to justify their behavior or uncovering ways to discredit or ignore new information.


People make decisions, both big and small, on a daily basis. When faced with two similar options, people often feel at odds because both options are equally attractive.

Once a choice is made, however, people need to find ways to reduce these uncomfortable feelings. People achieve this by explaining why their choice was the best choice so they can believe they made the right decision.

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What influences cognitive dissonance?

The degree of dissonance people experience can depend on a few different factors, including how highly they value a particular belief and how inconsistent their beliefs are.

The overall strength of the discord can also be influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • The importance attached to each belief. More personal perceptions, such as self-belief and appreciation, tend to lead to greater dissonance.
  • Amount of discordant beliefs. The more dissonant (conflicting) thoughts you have, the greater the power of dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance can often have a powerful effect on our behavior and actions. Not only does it affect how you feel, but it also motivates you to take action to reduce discomfort.

The impact of cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance can make people feel insecure and uncomfortable, especially if the disparity between their beliefs and behaviors relates to something that is most important to how they feel about themselves. their. For example, behaving in ways that are inconsistent with your personal values ​​can lead to intense feelings of discomfort. Your behavior not only contradicts the beliefs you have about the world, but also the beliefs you have about yourself.

This discomfort can manifest itself in a variety of ways. People may feel:

  • Worry
  • Embarrassment
  • Regret
  • Sadness
  • Shy
  • Stress

Cognitive dissonance can even affect how people feel and perceive themselves, leading to negative feelings about self-esteem and self-worth.

Because people want to avoid this discomfort, cognitive dissonance can have many effects. Discord can play a role in how people act, think, and make decisions. They may engage in behaviors or adopt attitudes to help reduce discomfort caused by conflict.

Some things a person can do to deal with these feelings include:

  • Adopt beliefs or ideas to help justify or explain conflicts between their beliefs or behaviour. This can sometimes involve blaming others or external factors.
  • Hide their beliefs or behaviors from others. People can feel ashamed about their conflicting beliefs and behaviors, so hiding differences from others can help reduce feelings of shame and guilt.
  • Only look for information that confirms their existing beliefs. This phenomenon, known as confirmation bias, affects our ability to think critically about a situation but helps reduce feelings of dissonance.

Coping with cognitive dissonance

When there is conflict between perceptions (thoughts, beliefs, opinions), people take steps to reduce dissonance and feelings of discomfort. They can do this in a number of different ways, such as:

  • More supportive beliefs than discordant beliefs. Those who know that greenhouse gas emissions lead to global warming may feel outraged if they drive a gas-guzzling car. To reduce this dissonance, they can look for new information that disprove the belief that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.
  • Reducing the importance of conflicting beliefs. A man concerned about his health may be worried to learn that sitting for long periods of time is linked to a reduced lifespan. Since he has to work all day in the office and spend a lot of time sitting, it is difficult to change his behavior. To deal with the uncomfortable feeling, he might instead find some way to rationalize the conflicting perception. He may justify his sedentary behavior by saying that his other healthy behaviors – like eating right and exercising occasionally – make up for his sedentary lifestyle. ta.
  • Change your beliefs. Changing conflicting perceptions is one of the most effective ways to deal with dissonance, but it is also one of the most difficult, especially in the case of deeply held values ​​and beliefs, such as such as religious or political leanings.

The hidden pitfalls of cognitive dissonance

Sometimes, the ways people deal with cognitive dissonance can contribute to unhealthy behaviors or poor decisions.

In “The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance,” Leon Festinger, the psychologist who first described the phenomenon, gave an example of how a person might deal with behavioral dissonance. micro health by discussing people who continue to smoke, even though they know it is. harmful to their health.

There are several ways that a person can resolve this dissonance:

  • According to Festinger, a person may decide that they value smoking more than their health, deeming the behavior “worth it” in terms of the risks versus rewards.
  • Another way to deal with this dissonance is to minimize the potential downsides. Smokers may convince themselves that the negative health effects are overstated. They can also assuage their health concerns by believing they can’t avoid every possible risk out there.
  • Festinger also suggests that people may try to convince themselves that if they stop smoking, then they will gain weight, which also poses health risks. By doing so, the smoker can reduce the dissonance and continue the behavior.

History of cognitive dissonance

Leon Festinger first proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance that focuses on how people try to achieve internal consistency.He suggests that people have an internal need to ensure that their beliefs and behaviors are consistent. Inconsistent beliefs or conflicts lead to discord, which people try to avoid.

In his 1957 book, “The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance,” Festinger explains, “Cognitive dissonance can be thought of as a pre-condition that leads to activity toward reducing dissonance. just like hunger leads to activity towards hunger reduction. It’s a very different motivation from what psychologists are used to dealing with but, as we’ll see, very powerful nonetheless.”

A very good word

Cognitive dissonance plays a role in many value judgments, decisions, and judgments. Recognizing the impact of conflicting beliefs on decision-making is a great way to improve your ability to make faster and more accurate choices.

A mismatch between your beliefs and actions can lead to uncomfortable feelings (and, at times, dealing with choices that have negative effects), but those feelings can also sometimes lead to negative feelings. to change and development.

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