What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive Dissonance: What It Is & Why It Matters

What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

Let’s say you’ve been exercising a boss—paying for virtual training sessions, jogging through your ‘hood, conquering any hiking trail within a five-mile radius—and eating healthy, all in a quest to drop that quarantine 15.

Then you go food shopping and spot a tub of edible cookie dough, which you put into your cart thinking you’ll only have just one spoonful here and there. Even though you buy it, you know you shouldn’t have because, well, sabotage. And that’s when the discomfort, guilt, and shame start to settle in.

This is cognitive dissonance—a mental conflict that occurs when your beliefs don’t line up with your actions.

“It’s an uncomfortable state of mind when someone has contradictory values, attitudes, or perspectives about the same thing,” says psychiatrist Grant H. Brenner MD, FAPA, co-founder of Neighborhood Psychiatry, in Manhattan.

“The degree of discomfort varies with the subject matter, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction.”

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Another example is the smoker who knows very well that nicotine causes lung cancer but takes puff after puff anyway to ease anxiety in the moment—and then feels a sense of shame and guilt.

“There’s some sort of discrepancy between what your values are and what you feel in that moment,” says Thea Gallagher, PsyD, assistant professor and director of the outpatient clinic at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety (CTSA) in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Or take the vegan who purchases a leather bag, the environmentally-conscious guy who buys a car that runs on gas, and the list goes on.

While cognitive dissonance in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, “when people avoid dealing with mental discomfort—unless the issue resolves on its own, which is usually unly with an inner conflict—it can lead to problems down the road,” Dr. Brenner says.

And, researchers believe it’s not an automatic feeling we get when we have contradictory beliefs—we experience it only when we’re aware there’s an inconsistency.

Where Did The Term Come From?

Way back in 1957, psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term after what would become a groundbreaking experiment.

Festinger and his colleague asked 71 subjects to engage in some snooze-worthy tasks turning the pegs in a pegboard for an hour. They were paid either $1 or $20 to tell a waiting participant that the task was fun.

Afterward, when the subjects were asked to evaluate the experiment, those who were paid $1 rated it as more fun than those who were paid $20.

Confusing, right? What the experiment showed was that the subjects paid $1 experienced dissonance. Why? Because $1 wasn’t enough to warrant lying so they, in effect, convinced themselves that the task was actually enjoyable. Whereas, because the $20 group believed the amount was enough to lie, they didn’t experience dissonance.

To break it down further, the dissonance occurred between the $1 group’s cognition (they really didn’t want to lie) and their behavior (they actually did lie).

Performing a task that’s inconsistent with someone’s beliefs is known as forced compliance.

And in order to reconcile the inconsistent behavior with their beliefs, they reduced the dissonance they felt by changing their attitude towards the action (reporting it was fun). You follow?

What Festinger’s theory showed was that people need consistency between their attitudes and behaviors—even though achieving that balance isn’t always accomplished in a rational way.

Researchers have even found differences in brain activity during a state of cognitive dissonance. Brain scans showed that decisions associated with higher levels of cognitive dissonance elicited a visible electrophysiological signal in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that monitors internal conflicts and mistakes.

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What Are The Effects of Cognitive Dissonance?

In the moment, cognitive dissonance can cause discomfort, stress, and anxiety. And the degree of these effects often depends on how much disparity there is between the conflicting beliefs, how much the beliefs mean to that person, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction.

So, for instance, a vegan who fosters baby animals and volunteers at a local shelter might experience a whole lot more stress by eating meat then let’s say someone who always talks about exercise yet never gets off the couch. “People may experience psychological stress because they know they should have self-compassion, but at the same time feel a deep sense of shame and regret,” Gallagher says.

Thanks to the discomfort cognitive dissonance causes, people may rationalize their decisions—even if they go against their beliefs—steer clear of convos about certain subjects, hide their beliefs or actions from others, or even ignore a doctor’s advice. In the end, all of these tactics just help them repeat the behaviors, which they don’t really agree with anyway. Hello, living, breathing oxymoron.

How Can It Impact The Choices We Make?

Cognitive dissonance can be problematic if you start to justify or rationalize destructive behaviors. Or if you start to majorly stress yourself out by trying to rationalize the dissonance.

“I have patients who go on dating apps and tell me all they get is rejection. I to remind them that they’ve rejected some people too, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. They didn’t hate them. They didn’t think they were disgusting. They were just , ‘Oh, this person is not for me.

’ But when they turn it around on themselves, they’re harsher and internalize the thought to ‘I’m horrible. No one s me. I’m just a loser.

’ This destructive pattern of thinking reinforces the dissonance and can shape behaviors to replay out this negative cycle for the long term,” Gallagher says.

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“Not many of us go into something going, ‘Hey, I’d really to challenge my beliefs about this today.’ We usually to stick to our beliefs. People resolve the dissonance by finding more information to confirm what they want to believe instead of trying to challenge it in a different way, which ends up just confirming the bias,” Gallagher says.

When cognitive dissonance goes unaddressed, it can not only cause angst, but it can lead to impaired decision-making, Dr. Brenner says. On the flip side, however, “When cognitive dissonance is properly addressed, it can lead to better decision-making and greater self-awareness,” he says.

“It can be helpful when you can identify it and ask yourself, ‘Why? How did I get to this place? How can I fix it? What behaviors can I do to challenge this?’” Gallagher says.

What Are The Signs You Might Be Experiencing Cognitive Dissonance?

Signs you might be experiencing cognitive dissonance include:

  • General discomfort that has no obvious or clear source
  • Confusion
  • Feeling conflicted over a disputed subject matter
  • People saying you’re being a hypocrite
  • Being aware of conflicting views and/or desired but not know what to do with them

“Developing a sense of inner conflict is a good thing to notice because it can lead to rigid beliefs and sudden changes in beliefs and behaviors,” Dr. Brenner explains.

“If competing values, beliefs, attitudes, etc.

are not resolved or integrated, it greatly inhibits the ability of groups to have constructive dialogue, making it difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a satisfactory compromise,” he says.

What Can You Do To Ease Cognitive Dissonance?

The good news is, resolving cognitive dissonance can often lead to positive changes. And it’s not always about making huge changes. Sometimes, a little shift in perspective can go a long way towards healthier thought patterns.

“The key is identifying it, assessing it, and figuring out how to resolve it,” Gallagher says. “You have to identify which values are yours and which values are someone else’s. And if you’re taking on someone else’s values, then you have to ask yourself why,” she says.

So, for example, if someone says, ‘I can’t believe you would spend money on a housekeeper.’ You have to figure out what your values are and what’s important to you, and then you have to be okay with them, Gallagher says.

“Sometimes, there’s not a right or wrong; it’s what’s best for you and this time in your life.”

Dissonance can be reduced by changing existing beliefs, adding new beliefs, or minimizing the importance of the beliefs. Take, for instance, an example proposed by Festinger: A heavy smoker who knows smoking is bad for his health will experience dissonance because he continues to puff away. He can reduce the dissonance by:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Changing his beliefs on the effect smoking has on his health (that it doesn’t cause lung cancer)
  • Adding a new belief by looking for the positive effects of smoking (it reduces anxiety and weight gain)
  • Reducing the importance of the belief by convincing himself that the risks of smoking are miniscule compared to the risk of an automobile accident

Life can be complicated and our actions and beliefs can be hard to make sense of at times. Being aware of distressing discrepancies is an important first step in addressing them though. Something else to keep in mind—we grow and evolve over the course of our lives so the cognitive dissonance we struggle with today may resolve over time.

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Cognitive Dissonance FAQs

Cognitive dissonance is a mental conflict that occurs when your beliefs don’t line up with your actions. It’s an uncomfortable state of mind when someone has contradictory values, attitudes, or perspectives about the same thing.

The degree of discomfort varies with the subject matter, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction. One example is a smoker who knows all too well that nicotine causes lung cancer but takes puff after puff anyway to ease his anxiety in the moment—and then feels a sense of shame.

There's some sort of discrepancy between what your values are and what you feel in that moment.

In the moment, cognitive dissonance can cause discomfort, stress, and anxiety. And the degree of these effects often depends on how much disparity there is between the conflicting beliefs, how much the beliefs mean to that person, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction.

Thanks to this discomfort, people may rationalize their decisions (even if they go against their beliefs), steer clear of convos about certain subjects, hide their beliefs or actions from others, or even ignore a doctor’s advice.

In the end, all of these tactics just help perpetuate the behaviors, which they don’t really agree with anyway.

Cognitive dissonance can be problematic if you start to justify or rationalize destructive behaviors or if you start to stress yourself out by trying to rationalize the dissonance.

When cognitive dissonance goes unaddressed, it can not only cause angst, but it can lead to impaired decision-making.

On the flip side, however, when cognitive dissonance is properly addressed, it can lead to better decision-making and greater self-awareness.

Signs you might be experiencing cognitive dissonance include: Discomfort of unclear origin, confusion, feeling conflicted over a disputed subject matter, people telling you you’re being a hypocrite, or being aware of conflicting views and/or desires but not knowing what to do with them.

    1. Cognitive Dissonance Origins & Application: Psychology of Learning and Motivation. (2012). Cognitive Dissonance. Available at:
      https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/cognitive-dissonance Accessed October 20, 2020.
    2. Frontiers in Psychology. A Theory of Predictive Dissonance: Predictive Processing Presents a New Take on Cognitive Dissonance. November 19, 2018. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02218 Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/cognitive-dissonance Accessed October 20, 2020.
    3. Brain Activity & Cognitive Dissonance: Journal of Neuroscience. (2017). Neural mechanisms of cognitive dissonance (revised): An EEG study. Available at: https://www.jneurosci.org/content/jneuro/early/2017/04/24/JNEUROSCI.3209-16.2017.full.pdf
      Accessed October 20, 2020.

Источник: https://www.psycom.net/cognitive-dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance

What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

By Saul McLeod, updated Feb 05, 2018

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance.

For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition), they are in a state of cognitive dissonance.

Who came up with cognitive dissonance theory?

Cognitive dissonance was first investigated by Leon Festinger, arising a participant observation study of a cult which believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood, and what happened to its members — particularly the really committed ones who had given up their homes and jobs to work for the cult — when the flood did not happen.

While fringe members were more inclined to recognize that they had made fools of themselves and to «put it down to experience,» committed members were more ly to re-interpret the evidence to show that they were right all along (the earth was not destroyed because of the faithfulness of the cult members).

How Attitude Change Takes Place

Festinger's (1957) cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and behavior in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). This is known as the principle of cognitive consistency.

When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.

Notice that dissonance theory does not state that these modes of dissonance reduction will actually work, only that individuals who are in a state of cognitive dissonance will take steps to reduce the extent of their dissonance.

The theory of cognitive dissonance has been widely researched in a number of situations to develop the basic idea in more detail, and various factors that have been identified which may be important in attitude change.

  • Effort.
  • We will look at the main findings to have emerged from each area.

    Forced Compliance Behavior

    When someone is forced to do (publicly) something they (privately) really don't want to do, dissonance is created between their cognition (I didn't want to do this) and their behavior (I did it).

    Forced compliance occurs when an individual performs an action that is inconsistent with his or her beliefs. The behavior can't be changed, since it was already in the past, so dissonance will need to be reduced by re-evaluating their attitude to what they have done. This prediction has been tested experimentally:

    In an intriguing experiment, Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) asked participants to perform a series of dull tasks (such as turning pegs in a peg board for an hour). As you can imagine, participant's attitudes toward this task were highly negative.

    Aim

    Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) investigated if making people perform a dull task would create cognitive dissonance through forced compliance behavior.

    Method

    In their laboratory experiment, they used 71 male students as participants to perform a series of dull tasks (such as turning pegs in a peg board for an hour).

    They were then paid either $1 or $20 to tell a waiting participant (a confederate) that the tasks were really interesting.

    Almost all of the participants agreed to walk into the waiting room and persuade the confederate that the boring experiment would be fun.

    Results

    When the participants were asked to evaluate the experiment, the participants who were paid only $1 rated the tedious task as more fun and enjoyable than the participants who were paid $20 to lie.

    Conclusion

    Being paid only $1 is not sufficient incentive for lying and so those who were paid $1 experienced dissonance. They could only overcome that dissonance by coming to believe that the tasks really were interesting and enjoyable. Being paid $20 provides a reason for turning pegs, and there is therefore no dissonance.

    Decision Making

    Life is filled with decisions, and decisions (as a general rule) arouse dissonance.

    For example, suppose you had to decide whether to accept a job in an absolutely beautiful area of the country, or turn down the job so you could be near your friends and family. Either way, you would experience dissonance. If you took the job you would miss your loved ones; if you turned the job down, you would pine for the beautiful streams, mountains, and valleys.

    Both alternatives have their good points and bad points. The rub is that making a decision cuts off the possibility that you can enjoy the advantages of the unchosen alternative, yet it assures you that you must accept the disadvantages of the chosen alternative.

    People have several ways to reduce dissonance that is aroused by making a decision (Festinger, 1964). One thing they can do is to change the behavior. As noted earlier, this is often very difficult, so people frequently employ a variety of mental maneuvers.

    A common way to reduce dissonance is to increase the attractiveness of the chosen alternative and to decrease the attractiveness of the rejected alternative. This is referred to as «spreading apart the alternatives.

    «

    Brehm (1956) was the first to investigate the relationship between dissonance and decision-making.

    Findings

    Participants in the high-dissonance condition spread apart the alternatives significantly more than did the participants in the other two conditions.

    In other words, they were more ly than participants in the other two conditions to increase the attractiveness of the chosen alternative and to decrease the attractiveness of the unchosen alternative.

    Effort

    It also seems to be the case that we value most highly those goals or items which have required considerable effort to achieve.

    This is probably because dissonance would be caused if we spent a great effort to achieve something and then evaluated it negatively.

    We could, of course, spend years of effort into achieving something which turns out to be a load of rubbish and then, in order to avoid the dissonance that produces, try to convince ourselves that we didn't really spend years of effort, or that the effort was really quite enjoyable, or that it wasn't really a lot of effort.

    In fact, though, it seems we find it easier to persuade ourselves that what we have achieved is worthwhile and that's what most of us do, evaluating highly something whose achievement has cost us dear — whether other people think it's much cop or not! This method of reducing dissonance is known as 'effort justification.'

    If we put effort into a task which we have chosen to carry out, and the task turns out badly, weexperience dissonance. To reduce this dissonance, we are motivated to try to think that the task turned out well.A classic dissonance experiment by Aronson and Mills (1959) demonstrates the basic idea.

    How is cognitive dissonance resolved?

    Dissonance can be reduced in one of three ways: a) changing existing beliefs, b) adding new beliefs, or c) reducing the importance of the beliefs.

    Change one or more of the attitudes, behavior, beliefs, etc., to make the relationship between the two elements a consonant one

    When one of the dissonant elements is a behavior, the individual can change or eliminate the behavior.

    However, this mode of dissonance reduction frequently presents problems for people, as it is often difficult for people to change well-learned behavioral responses (e.g., giving up smoking).

    Acquire new information that outweighs the dissonant beliefs

    For example, thinking smoking causes lung cancer will cause dissonance if a person smokes.

    However, new information such as “research has not proved definitely that smoking causes lung cancer” may reduce the dissonance.

    Reduce the importance of the cognitions (i.e., beliefs, attitudes)

    A person could convince themself that it is better to «live for today» than to «save for tomorrow.»

    In other words, he could tell himself that a short life filled with smoking and sensual pleasures is better than a long life devoid of such joys. In this way, he would be decreasing the importance of the dissonant cognition (smoking is bad for one's health).

    Critical Evaluation

    There has been a great deal of research into cognitive dissonance, providing some interesting and sometimes unexpected findings. It is a theory with very broad applications, showing that we aim for consistency between attitudes and behaviors, and may not use very rational methods to achieve it. It has the advantage of being testable by scientific means (i.e., experiments).

    However, there is a problem from a scientific point of view, because we cannot physically observe cognitive dissonance, and therefore we cannot objectively measure it (re: behaviorism). Consequently, the term cognitive dissonance is somewhat subjective.

    There is also some ambiguity (i.e., vagueness) about the term 'dissonance' itself.

    Is it a perception (as 'cognitive' suggests), or a feeling, or a feeling about a perception? Aronson's Revision of the idea of dissonance as an inconsistency between a person's self-concept and a cognition about their behavior makes it seem ly that dissonance is really nothing more than guilt.

    There are also individual differences in whether or not people act as this theory predicts. Highly anxious people are more ly to do so. Many people seem able to cope with considerable dissonance and not experience the tensions the theory predicts.

    Finally, many of the studies supporting the theory of cognitive dissonance have low ecological validity. For example, turning pegs (as in Festinger's experiment) is an artificial task that doesn’t happen in everyday life.

    Also, the majority of experiments used students as participants, which raise issues of a biased sample. Could we generalize the results from such experiments?

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    How to reference this article:

    McLeod, S. A. (2018, Febuary 05). Cognitive dissonance. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html

    APA Style References

    Aronson, E., & Mills, J. (1959). The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59(2), 177.

    Brehm, J. W. (1956). Postdecision changes in the desirability of alternatives. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 52(3), 384.

    Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Festinger, L. (1959). Some attitudinal consequences of forced decisions. Acta Psychologica, 15, 389-390.

    Festinger, L. (Ed.). (1964). Conflict, decision, and dissonance (Vol. 3). Stanford University Press.

    Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58(2), 203.

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