Cognitive dissonance

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We make decisions every day, some more conflicting than others. When faced with a dilemma, we often get stuck fighting with ourselves on what to decide. This internal monolog about two options can be exhausting and discomforting and, more often than not may make us feel guilty no matter the option we choose. This is known as cognitive dissonance and although it may be tiring, it is important to see how we function as individuals and as a society.اضافة اعلان

What is cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is a term used to describe the discomfort that comes from two conflicting ideas. These ideas are often beliefs, values or attitudes that we have developed over the span of our life. The process that leads to cognitive dissonance involves rationalization. We examine two contradictory ideas and internally debate what the right choice is.

There are many ways cognitive dissonance can be brought on, but three of the most common causes are forced compliance, new information, and decisions. Forced compliance is when you are placed in a situation that goes against your beliefs or values. These situations commonly occur at work, school, or in social settings and are often the result of peer pressure.

New information can also cause cognitive dissonance and can be particularly difficult to deal with. This often occurs when you engage in a behavior and later learn that it is harmful. In these cases, sometimes people find ways to justify their behavior, discredit the information, or ignore it entirely. Finally, cognitive dissonance will likely occur when you need to make a decision and both options are equally appealing.

Signs of cognitive dissonance

The degree of discomfort brought on by cognitive dissonance varies from person to person; the strength of the belief or the amount of clashing beliefs usually dictate its severity. If you are a person who experiences cognitive dissonance frequently, you may notice a few things in your behavior: you may feel uncomfortable before making decisions or doing some things, and will constantly rationalize your choices to yourself; you may feel embarrassed about the choices you have made, which can result in feeling guilt or regret and ultimately lead to you trying to hide your actions; you may do things simply out of social pressure or fear of missing out, regardless of your preference.

Long-term effects of cognitive dissonance

When you feel constantly conflicted, this can have a negative effect on your mental wellbeing. If severe and long enough, cognitive dissonance may result in anxiety, depression, embarrassment, regret, shame. Over time, these negative feelings can affect a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-worth. As a result, people try to avoid these feelings, but may do so in an unhealthy manner. One of the unhealthiest ways to cope is through confirmation bias, which is when you seek out information that only confirms your beliefs while ignore anything that could contradict.

Although it can help minimize the feelings associated with cognitive dissonance, it will also greatly impair your critical thinking. Other unhealthy coping mechanisms include blaming others or outside factors to take pressure off yourself, and hiding your beliefs or behavior from others to reduce the feelings of guilt or shame.

Harmful behavior

Unfortunately, just because an idea has been rationalized to be subjectively right, it does not mean that it is objectively right. As a result, cognitive dissonance is often seen as a negative process. Aside from the process being discomforting to the individual, it can also lead people to rationalize harmful behavior.

Psychologist Leon Festinger was the man who first described cognitive dissonance and used smoking as an example of its negative implications. Smoking is an addictive behavior that provides the individual with temporary pleasure and a relief from stress. Thankfully, due to the decades of health campaigns, nearly everyone knows the negative health consequences of smoking and yet there are people who do not quit or those who start smoking.
Gaining new information may also help reduce cognitive dissonance. This can provide perspective on a situation and give support to or discredit certain beliefs. Unfortunately, this may lead to confirmation bias if done incorrectly.
Festinger believed that this can be attributed to cognitive dissonance and provided examples of how someone would use it to justify smoking. For example, people may be fully aware of health consequences but still believe that value from smoking is well worth the risk. They may also use cognitive dissonance to minimalize the risks by believing that the risks are exaggerated. Smokers can rationalize that quitting would bring about other health risks such as weight gain. By giving themselves these rationalizations, they are able to reduce the pain brought on by pondering and still continue the habit.

How to deal with cognitive dissonance

There is no clear-cut way to deal with cognitive dissonance in a healthy manner. Coping varies from person to person and largely requires experimenting. In the theory of cognitive dissonance, there are three ways to resolve it: changing existing beliefs, adding new beliefs, or reducing the importance of beliefs.

When there are two incompatible beliefs or behaviors, one of the simplest solutions is to change or eliminate one of them. Although it may seem straight forward in theory, it can be particularly difficult if the belief or behavior has strong value to the individual or has been a long-standing idea.

Gaining new information may also help reduce cognitive dissonance. This can provide perspective on a situation and give support to or discredit certain beliefs. Unfortunately, this may lead to confirmation bias if done incorrectly. One of the easiest ways to avoid confirmation bias is to find people to discuss the topic with who can challenge your belief. Lastly, you can reduce the overall importance of certain beliefs. This can be done by rationalizing that other aspects of your life can compensate or reduce the risk associated with the new piece of information.

Benefits of cognitive dissonance

Although cognitive dissonance has many negative implications, there are also many great benefits if handled correctly. It is a phrase often used to deny or devalue new pieces of information, but it can also be a motivating factor in learning new information.

Cognitive dissonance can lead to in-depth research on a particular topic in order to inform well an individual. From there, the more information learned the easier it is to rationalize and come to an informed decision.

By intentionally seeking out those with differing beliefs or ideas, you learn how certain people think. In the future, this gives you an idea on how to engage certain types of people.

Although cognitive dissonance is an unavoidable fact of life, it can be dealt with in a productive manner that motivates one to evolve mentally.

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