Explaining Cognitive Dissonance - Anne Serry

Explaining Cognitive Dissonance

Explaining Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance differs from hypocrisy in that we aren’t aware of the inconsistency in our behaviour. While hypocrisy is marked by our acknowledging the conflict between what we say and what we do, cognitive dissonance occurs when we don’t realize there’s a conflict.

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological conflict that occurs when we hold two contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. This conflict is uncomfortable and motivates us to try to reduce it by either changing our beliefs or actions.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

In 1956, social psychologist Jack Brehm observed that when people are given a choice between two similar items, they tend to believe that the item they chose is objectively better than the one they rejected. The “free-choice paradigm,” used to study consumer preferences, consists of offering two (or more) alternatives that are essentially equal. If subjects are allowed to choose for themselves, they will invent reasons to prefer one over the other. This phenomenon has been shown in many experiments since then.

In 1957, psychologist Leon Festinger proposed that people experience a drive to reduce inconsistencies in their self-image. He called this drive cognitive dissonance.

In 1957, Festinger proposed the cognitive dissonance theory in his book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. His research on cognitive dissonance has become critical to the fields of social psychology and psychiatry.

Causes Of Cognitive Dissonance?

When a person is in a situation where they have to do something against their will, they experience discomfort. In an attempt to feel better about the situation, they try to make the action seem less undesirable.

What Are The Effects Of Cognitive Dissonance

It is unpleasant to experience cognitive dissonance. Living out of integrity with our values can have negative effects on our mental health.

Yet research also shows that cognitive dissonance can have positive effects. When we process the dissonance and understand why it’s happening, we can make changes that bring us into alignment with our values.

Researchers asked participants to give speeches designed to encourage the audience to take a certain action.

Participants who thought of a time when they had acted assertively, before going on stage in an assertiveness training exercise, felt like hypocrites — but their intention to take the positive action increased.

Cognitive dissonance leads to motivation and the desire for cognitive changes, which can help people begin the “psychological work” needed to reduce inconsistencies.

For example, a smoker who experiences cognitive dissonance every time he or she lights up might seek help. The person might join a support group and read books on addiction in order to rid himself or herself of cigarettes.

Many people find it difficult to beat an addiction, but once they do so, they feel relieved that they are living in accordance with what they truly value: their health.

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