Cognitive dissonance is one of the theories in the field of social psychology. It is a term used to describe the conflict in the mind that can occur when a person’s behavior and beliefs don’t align.
To have a clear idea of what cognitive dissonance means, the first step is to understand what happens when the tension (or “dissonance”) occurs. It is often the case that this happens within your brain without you having to be thinking about it. When we are aware of the emotional and mental discomfort that cognitive dissonance creates, it can be a swift second step to decrease the dissonance in a certain way. It’s possible to alter the significance of one notion or belief so that it is less dissonant.
What Is Cognitive Dissonance?
The term “cognitive dissonance” is used to refer to this mental stress that comes from having two opposing beliefs or values. People generally look for consistency in their beliefs, values, and beliefs, which is why this conflict can cause a feeling of discomfort or unease.
The American Psychological Association defines cognitive dissonance as “an uncomfortable psychological condition that results from an inconsistency between two or more elements of the cognitive system.”
For instance, when smokers use tobacco (behavior) and are aware that smoking can cause cancer (cognition) and they clearly aren’t looking forward to dying from cancer, they’re in a state of cognitive dissonance (where their actions and beliefs do not match).
The contradiction between what people believe and the way they conduct themselves prompts people to take actions that help ease discomfort. People try to ease the tension in a variety of ways, including refusing to accept, explaining away, or refusing to accept new information.
What Influences Cognitive Dissonance?
- The kind of beliefs that are more personal leads to greater dissonance.
- The importance of beliefs that are held in high regard can result in more dissonance.
- The extent of the gap A large gap between conflicting beliefs and harmonious ones can cause more dissonance.
People generally tend to avoid discomfort, and cognitive dissonance has an impact on the person’s
- The decisions
- Beliefs and attitudes.
- The mental state
Examples of Cognitive Dissonance
What does this inconsistency-related discomfort look like in everyday life? Here are some cognitive dissonances you could observe in your own life:
- You’re trying to stay healthy and fit, but you don’t train regularly or follow a healthy diet. You’re feeling guilty due to this.
- You are aware of the fact that smoking (or drinking excessively) can be harmful to your health, yet you continue to do it. You justify your actions with the excuse of your stress levels.
- You’d like to grow your savings, but you tend to use up your cash immediately after you receive it. You know you’ll regret it later on, like the time you had an unexpected expense for which you did not have the funds to pay for it.
- There’s a lot on your to-do list, but you spend the entire day watching your favourite shows instead. You don’t want your spouse to be aware, so you attempt to appear as if you’ve been working throughout the day.
Signs of Cognitive Dissonance
Every person experiences cognitive dissonance to an extent, but that doesn’t mean it’s evident. Cognitive dissonance may cause people to feel uncomfortable and uneasy. This is particularly the case when the difference between their thoughts and actions has something to do with something central to their self-perception.
A few indicators that your feelings could be due to cognitive dissonance could be:
- Uncertainty about taking an important decision
- The process of trying to justify your decision or action you’ve taken
- You’re embarrassed by something you’ve done and trying to conceal your actions from others.
- Feeling guilty or regretful about something you’ve done in your past.
- Doing things due to the pressure of society or fear of being left out even if you really didn’t want to
Cognitive dissonance could even affect the way people think about themselves and see themselves, resulting in low self-esteem and a negative perception of self-worth.
What Causes Cognitive Dissonance?
Forced Compliance Behavior
If someone is compelled to perform (publicly) something that they (privately) do not want to do, dissonance can be caused between their perception (I wasn’t going to perform it) and their behaviour (I have done it).
Forced compliance happens when an individual takes an action that is not in line with their beliefs. It is impossible to change the behavior as it has already occurred, and so dissonance needs to be reduced by reassessing their attitudes towards the actions they’ve taken. This theory has been proven by conducting experiments.
At times, you might be performing actions that are contrary to your own beliefs due to external standards at school, work, or even in social situations. This could mean that you agree with something because of the pressure of others or performing things at work to keep you from being fired.
Life is full of decisions, and these choices (as generally) create dissonance.
Different options have their own strengths and weaknesses. The issue is that deciding eliminates the possibility that you will enjoy benefits from the unchosen alternative, while it also assures you that you will have to be willing to accept the drawbacks of choice, if any.
People make choices, both small and large, every day. If we are faced with two options that look similar, we’re often confronted with feelings of dissonance if both choices are equally attractive.
After a decision is made, most times, we must find an approach to ease the feelings of discontent if there is one. This is accomplished by proving the reasons why we chose to make the most appropriate choice so that we are confident that we’ve made the right choice.
Sometimes, learning new information may cause thoughts of mental dissonance. If, for instance, you make a decision that you later discover can be harmful, it results in feelings of anxiety. Some people deal with this by attempting to justify their actions or finding ways to denigrate or disregard new evidence.
We are also most devoted to goals or things that have taken a significant amount of effort to accomplish.
It is likely that dissonance could be caused when we exert a huge effort in achieving something only to afterward view it in a negative light. It is possible to invest years of our lives in achieving something that proves to be, in fact, a complete waste of time, and, then, to prevent the dissonance it creates, we attempt to convince ourselves that we didn’t invest a lot of time and effort or that the work was pleasant, or it was not an enormous amount of work.
However, it is apparent that we are able to convince ourselves that what we’ve done is worth the effort, and that’s the way most individuals do: by valuing an accomplishment that is costly regardless of whether others believe that it is or not! This approach to decreasing dissonance is called “effort justification.”
If we exert effort on an undertaking we’ve selected to do, but the work is not as expected, there is a feeling of dissonance. To lessen the dissonance, we want to believe that the work was successful or that the effort was not sufficient “effort justification.”
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Impact of Cognitive Dissonance
As people seek to avoid uncomfortable feelings, cognitive dissonance may result in a range of negative effects. It can play a part in the way we behave or think and how we make decisions. We can engage in behavior or change our attitudes to alleviate the tension that is caused by conflict.
The things that one could try to do to manage the feelings are:
- Accepting ideas or beliefs to justify or dispel the differences between their ideas or behavior. Sometimes, this can involve blaming others or external factors.
- Hiding beliefs and actions from others. Some people may be embarrassed by their differing beliefs and actions and conceal their differences from other people to avoid feeling guilt and shame.
- The only thing you look for is facts that support the existing assumptions. This is a phenomenon, also known as confirmation bias, influences the ability to critically evaluate an issue while also reducing emotions of dissonance.
Many people believe they’re logical, reliable, consistent, and adept in making decisions. Cognitive dissonance may alter their perceptions of themselves and their capabilities, and that’s why it is often uncomfortable and unsettling.
Read More: How Cognitive Biases Influence How You Think And Act
Dealing With Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance doesn’t have to be negative. It can actually inspire you to take positive steps when you realize that your thoughts and actions don’t match.
It can be problematic when it causes you to justify behavior that is detrimental. You may also become caught up in trying to justify the dissonance until you stress yourself out.
If you ever encounter a moment of dissonance in your thinking, Take a moment to think about these questions:
- How can we identify the two concepts that don’t fit?
- What steps would I need to take in order to get rid of the dissonance?
- Do I have to alter certain behaviors? Or do I need to change my mind or idea?
- What is the most important thing for me to eliminate the confusion?
Just being conscious of how your actions and thoughts connect will help you discern what’s important to you, even if it doesn’t get rid of the confusion immediately.
Every person experiences cognitive dissonance in various forms throughout their life. It’s more common for people to feel unease and the feeling that you have to solve the confusion when cognitions are important to you, or they are in conflict with one another.
Cognitive dissonance is a factor in various value judgments, choices, and assessments. Understanding how conflicting beliefs affect the process of making decisions is an excellent way to increase your capacity to make quicker and more precise decisions.
The challenge of overcoming cognitive dissonance may produce positive results. This doesn’t necessarily require drastic changes. Sometimes, solving cognitive dissonance can be an issue of changing your view of things or creating new patterns of thinking to enable you to be more in tune with what’s important to you.
The mismatch between your values and your actions can cause a feeling of discomfort. These feelings may be a catalyst for change and development. Do Better, Be Better.