Cognitive Dissonance: Let's Talk About it

Have you ever been in a situation where you've held two or more contradictory beliefs, values, or attitudes all at the same time? Yes, right?

Have you ever seemed innately conflicted because your thoughts and actions just aren't as consistent as they used to be because they contradict each other? Yes, again, right?

Lastly, have you had to bend your reality because that reality – what you've learnt all your life – isn't just adding up anymore? If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then lemme introduce you to the concept of Cognitive Dissonance.

By the way, if you answered no to all three questions, then lay off that fancy stealth and robotic cover-up cos we just discovered the first human robot and that's you!

Without wasting much time on you, yes, the human-robotic cover-up, let's proceed to this deep, intriguing discussion. Oh, you're gonna love this one!

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

The term Cognitive Dissonance was first used by Leon Festinger in 1957, who defined it as “the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting cognitions”.

Cognitions can be anything that a person knows or believes, such as facts, opinions, values, attitudes, or actions. It is often that immediate feeling of "yes", followed by an immediate "but".

It can sometimes pass off as conflicting beliefs: that feeling of hmmmmmm 🤔 something doesn't quite add up here.

Consider this scenario: you find yourself contemplating what to eat, with the recurring intention to opt for a healthier choice. However, when faced with the decision between a tempting shawarma roll and a more nutritious fruit salad for dessert, a dilemma arises. 

Despite the clear understanding that the fruit salad is the healthier option, the allure of satisfying immediate cravings creates a conflict, resulting in a state of cognitive dissonance.

Another great example is this: you passionately advocate for preserving the ozone layer, consistently raising awareness about the detrimental impact of greenhouse gases on human well-being. 

Paradoxically, you regularly opt to travel via private jet, fully cognizant of the significant emissions it contributes to our atmosphere. In an attempt to rationalise this inconsistency, you assert that punctuality is indispensable in business, and prioritising comfort takes precedence above everything.

Cognitive dissonance is a common and normal phenomenon. Finding oneself in situations that challenge pre-existing views or ideals is, in fact, a typical occurrence and an intrinsic aspect of the human experience.

How Does Cognitive Dissonance Manifest in Reality

I cannot fully address this topic without acknowledging how this manifests in our reality, as every aspect of our lives is shaped by actions and reactions. In my view, individuals tend to align themselves with either faith-driven or evidence-driven perspectives.

Simultaneously, navigating both contexts proves challenging thanks to the inherent conflict—what we commonly refer to as cognitive dissonance.

For me, It came to my attention when I noticed that as a child, I loved animals, but I also enjoyed eating the protein that came from them. This internal conflict often arose as I attempted to rationalise my protein preferences, convincing myself that the nutritional needs of my body took precedence over my love for animals. Don’t judge; I was only a child.

Some of the ways cognitive dissonance manifests are:

  • Systematic gaslighting
  • Self-doubt
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Victim blaming
  • Regrets
  • Addictions

Notably, these triggers, when not addressed, can, in turn, manifest extremely physically as bipolar disorder.

How Does Cognitive Dissonance Affect People?

Before delving into how it affects people, a curious cat like Moi would like to know why it even occurs in the first place.

First off, as you guessed right, cognitive dissonance sometimes occurs to silence our innate discomforts.

I would say it happens for two specific reasons:

  • To keep our minds and actions aligned and consistent.
  • To justify and support our inconsistent behaviours.

Cognitive dissonance is unpleasant and stressful, as it creates a sense of inconsistency and imbalance in one’s mind. People often have a natural inclination towards harmony and coherence in their thoughts, prompting them to actively seek ways to promptly reduce or eliminate any conflicting idea or belief. 

According to Festinger, there are three main ways that people cope with cognitive dissonance. They include:

  • Change one or more of our cognitions to make them more consistent.
  • Avoid or ignore the conflicting cognitions or the sources of dissonance.
  • Add new cognitions that justify or rationalise the existing ones.

The choice of coping strategy depends on various factors, like the importance, centrality, and strength of the conflicting cognitions, the availability and feasibility of alternative cognitions, and the social and personal consequences of changing or maintaining the cognitions.

People may use different strategies for different situations, or combine them to achieve a satisfactory level of dissonance reduction.

How to Cope with Cognitive Dissonance?

The human mind operates like a machine, and like any other machine under excessive strain, it may malfunction, symbolically emitting stress-induced "smoke" to show that something just ain't right.

In this analogy, cognitive dissonance serves as that smoke, serving as an alert to the inconsistencies present in one's thoughts and actions.

Cognitive dissonance is not always negative or harmful. It can also be a source of motivation, learning, and growth, as it challenges people to examine their beliefs and values, and to adjust them to the reality of the world. Nevertheless, it can also keep you in a state of constant delusion. A state that some people often mistake with reality.

Therefore, rather than avoiding or suppressing cognitive dissonance, it may be beneficial to embrace it and use it as an opportunity to improve one’s understanding and behaviour.

Some tips for constructively coping with cognitive dissonance are:

  • Being aware of your cognitions and how they relate to each other. It can be achieved by identifying the sources and signs of cognitive dissonance and acknowledging the feeling of discomfort it causes.

  • Being open-minded and curious about new information and perspectives that may contradict our existing cognitions. It is advisable we seek out arguments that challenge our assumptions and biases, and then evaluate them critically and objectively.

  • Being honest and responsible for your cognitions and the consequences they come with. This includes admitting to the mistakes we've made as well as our inconsistencies, and then taking conscious actions to correct them. It is also important to seek feedback and support from others who can help improve your cognitive processes and behaviours.

  • Being flexible and willing to change your cognitions if they are proven to be inaccurate, irrational, or outdated. Remember to take into account the pros and cons of different options, you can then weigh them against your goals and values.

I know while reading this you might be experiencing an influx of thoughts; hold your heart before it falls off. It is totally a natural reaction. Your mind is doing this to make sense of all the intelligent jargon you’ve just swallowed. Keep reading, so your mind can make total sense of these information and then you can learn a thing or two.

Cognitive dissonance is a natural and inevitable part of human psychology; it doesn't have to be a problem or a burden. Nevertheless, by learning to recognise this mental stress, you will understand what cognitive dissonance essentially is, how it affects people, and how to cope with it. Even better, you can use it as a catalyst for positive change and growth.

If you made it this far, here's a high five(5) 🙏for you. Share with us in the comment section, ways cognitive dissonance has manifested in your life, either while growing up or as a full-blown adult. I love to read your responses.

Fun Fact:

✯ The process of brain development initiates from the back and progresses towards the front. Consequently, the frontal lobes, responsible for planning and reasoning, are the last to strengthen and establish connections. As a result, the full formation of the brain doesn't occur until around the age of 25.

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  1. Great content 🔥

  2. Nice one, I didnt realize it had a name.

  3. Woah. I'm just learning about this. Would love to read more on topics like this.