Cognitive Dissonance

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Do you ever have that feeling when you know something, but then act in a way that goes against what you know? Or maybe you've experienced holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time? These examples illustrate cognitive dissonance: an inconsistency between your thoughts and actions (or between two thoughts).

Cognitive dissonance usually happens when we're faced with new information that's inconsistent with our current beliefs. It can be uncomfortable because it creates a sense of unease or tension. We may try to reduce this dissonance by changing our thoughts or actions (or both).

What is the definition of cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state that is experienced when one has conflicting beliefs and attitudes. This state of conflict can cause feelings of tension and discomfort, which often leads people to reject, discredit, or actively avoid new information in order to reduce this tension. As a result, cognitive dissonance can have an impact on how people behave and make decisions.

What are some examples of cognitive dissonance?

1. Eating meat

Cognitive dissonance is the conflict between a person's beliefs and their behavior. This can be particularly relevant for individuals who make the decision to reduce or eliminate meat from their diet, as this may contradict previous beliefs held by the individual. People who experience cognitive dissonance in this situation may attempt to reduce it through avoidance, willful ignorance, dissociation, perceived behavioral change, and do-gooder derogation. This phenomenon is also more likely for people with a dominant attitude and those who value masculinity. Ultimately, reducing or eliminating meat from one's diet can help minimize the experience of cognitive dissonance.

2. Getting enough exercise

Exercise creates cognitive dissonance because it challenges people's previous beliefs and behaviors. This conflict of ideas can lead to feelings of guilt or discomfort, making it difficult for individuals to continue exercising in spite of good intentions. Exercise can also change people's attitudes towards the gym, leading to more positive feelings about themselves and their ability to push through physical activity.

3. Picking up after your dog

The dog owner in the example relates to cognitive dissonance when they realize their own actions do not match their beliefs. In this case, the dog owner felt guilty after forgetting to bring bags to pick up after their dog and saw other dogs' messes in the neighborhood. This caused a feeling of cognitive dissonance as having a belief that they should be picking up after their pet while also having an action (forgetting the bag) that does not match this belief. To resolve this tension, the person created a system where they would always pick up after their pet and replace forgotten bags.

4. Being productive at work

Being productive at work can lead to cognitive dissonance, which is a state of conflict between two or more thoughts or feelings someone has about a situation. This conflict is often caused by engaging in activities that are not typically allowed, such as staying connected to social media during work hours. People may try to resolve the inner-conflict by altering their attitude or behavior, but this approach often proves ineffective in resolving the cognitive dissonance.

5. Not listening to the other side

An example of cognitive dissonance is when two people hold opposing views on a topic. This can cause discomfort or stress, as each person finds themselves trying to reconcile the two conflicting thoughts in their mind. To cope with this mental conflict, one or both may reject the other's proposal in order to make sense of their own beliefs and actions.

6. Avoiding the doctor

One example of cognitive dissonance is when an individual holds two conflicting thoughts in their head at the same time. For example, a person might believe that smoking is unhealthy yet still choose to smoke. This creates a state of internal conflict and discomfort, which results in cognitive dissonance.

7. Moving for love

Moving for love can be an example of cognitive dissonance because it involves making a decision that has both pros and cons. By moving for love, one is gaining the pros of one choice (moving) while losing the pros of another choice (staying in the same place). This creates an internal conflict or tension, as people must weigh their options when making a big decision such as this. Therefore, cognitive dissonance is caused by any change in behavior and may lead to confusion and difficulty making decisions.

8. Inducing effort

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when someone holds two conflicting beliefs or has to make a decision between two incompatible options. It causes feelings of discomfort and tension due to the internal conflict and can lead to changes in behavior. Understanding cognitive dissonance is important for resolving conflicts, managing stress levels, and making more informed decisions. Aronson and Mills’ (1959) classic experiment demonstrated how people use effort justification as a way of reducing their own cognitive dissonance by convincing themselves that the task they invested time into was successful despite its outcome being negative.

9. Providing choice

An example of cognitive dissonance related to providing choice can be seen when a consumer is offered multiple options and cannot decide which to choose. This leads to a feeling of tension or discomfort as the consumer holds two conflicting ideas simultaneously. By offering choice, the goal is to reduce this discomfort by allowing the consumer to make a decision that they feel comfortable with.

See Also

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological concept referring to the mental discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. Leon Festinger introduced the theory in 1957, suggesting that individuals seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. In the context of cognitive dissonance, change can come in the form of changing beliefs, acquiring new information, or reducing the importance of cognitions (beliefs, attitudes).

  • Behavioral Psychology: Discussing the branch of psychology that focuses on observable behaviors, including the mechanisms of learning and motivation. Cognitive dissonance is a concept that intersects with behavioral psychology by emphasizing how dissonance can lead to changes in behavior.
  • Attitude Change: Covering the processes through which attitudes are influenced and modified. Cognitive dissonance theory is fundamental to understanding why and how attitude changes occur, especially when individuals seek to reduce dissonance between their actions and beliefs.
  • Social Psychology: Discussing the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. Cognitive dissonance is a key concept in social psychology, exploring how social contexts contribute to dissonance and its resolution.
  • Decision-Making Processes: Explaining the cognitive processes resulting in selecting a belief or a course of action among several alternatives. Cognitive dissonance often arises during or after decision-making when conflicting information or regret affects the individual.
  • Marketing and Consumer Behavior: Covering how understanding cognitive dissonance is applied in marketing strategies to influence consumers' purchasing decisions. Marketers may seek to create or resolve dissonance to drive consumer behavior.
  • Self-Perception Theory: Discussing a theory that suggests people develop attitudes by observing their behavior and concluding what attitudes must have caused them. This theory can be seen as related to or contrasting with cognitive dissonance in explaining behavior and attitude change.
  • Persuasion and Influence: Explaining the processes and techniques used to change people's beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors. Understanding cognitive dissonance is crucial in persuasion and influence, as it can significantly impact the effectiveness of persuasive messages.
  • Conflict Resolution: Covering the methods and processes to facilitate the peaceful ending of conflict and retribution. Cognitive dissonance can play a role in conflicts and their resolution, especially in interpersonal and group dynamics.
  • Moral Psychology: Discussing the study of moral development, ethics, and how individuals decide right and wrong. Cognitive dissonance often arises in moral decision-making when actions conflict with moral beliefs.
  • Group Dynamics: Explaining the processes involved in group formation, operation, and dissolution. Cognitive dissonance can affect group cohesion and decision-making, especially when members have conflicting beliefs or information.
  • Psychological Stress: Covering the emotional strain or tension from adverse or demanding circumstances. Cognitive dissonance can be a source of psychological stress as individuals struggle to reconcile conflicting cognitions.
  • Theory of Planned Behavior: Discussing a theory that links beliefs and behavior. The theory posits that attitude toward behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control, together shape an individual's behavioral intentions and behaviors. Cognitive dissonance can influence these components, especially attitudes toward behaviors.
  • Cognitive Bias