Chances are good that you’ve heard ofsomething called”Cognitive Dissonance.”
It’s a term that’s starting to get thrown
around a lot these days, but you
might not know that it has a really deep root in classic social psychology.
In 1957, Leon Festinger wrote a book on the theory of cognitive dissonance and
outlined a really detailed understanding
of what cognitive dissonance is and how people deal with it
it let’s start out by talking about what cognitive dissonance is
How would we define it?
At the very basics,cognitive dissonance is about inconsistency.
When we hold two thoughts that are inconsistent with one another,
basically that’s dissonance. So let’stake the example of someone who
Here’s a person who might have two distinct thoughts,
one of which is: “I regularly smoke cigarettes.”
The other of which is the knowledge that”smoking cigarettes is unhealthy.”
Here are two thoughts
that a person can be having at the same time,
acknowledging both of these things as fact,
but they would seem inconsistent withone another.
If you know that smoking is bad,
then logically, you probably wouldn’t be engaging in that activity yourself.
And so this is a case
of dissonance because there is inconsistency in your own thoughts.
So what people do when they experiencecognitive dissonance? Well,
there are a few ways
in which Festinger said that you could resolve
the inconsistency as a way of resolvingthe dissonance. First,
you can change one of those thoughts.
In the case of the smoker who
realizes that smoking is bad and also
that he is a regular smoker,
he might change one of those beliefs andgo,”Smoking’s not that bad. It’s
actually not unhealthy to smoke.”
Thatwill be changing one of your cognitions–
–one of your thoughts– as a way ofrestoring consistency.
Another thing you could do is
change your behavior as a way to restore consistency. So,
in this case, the smoker might say,
嗯 众所皆知 如果我认识到
” Well I, you know, if I acknowledge that
吸烟不好 我保持认知一致的做法就是戒烟 因此
smoking is bad, then the way I can be consistent is to stop smoking.” So,
changing one of the behaviors that’s related to the inconsistency.
Another thing people can do is to add
new thoughts into the mix–thoughts thathelp rationalize the inconsistency. So,
someone might say, you know, “Yes,
吸烟的确不好 没错 我经常吸烟 但我其它的很多行为是健康的
smoking is bad. Yes, I smoke regularly.But also, I do a lot of other healthy behaviors.
I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables,
and I exercise a lot,” so I’m
adding new thoughts as a way to reduce the problem of inconsistency.
And finally, people can just trivialize theinconsistency completely.
They can just say,”You know what?” “Sure,
当然 吸烟不好 我吸烟 但我不在乎
smoking’s bad, and I smoke, but I justdon’t care.”
“And that’s going to be it. That’s notreally as big of a deal as people say
that it is.” That would be another way ofresolving dissonance. **”Man,
that’s tobacco.” **
But why do people feel like they need to resolve anything at all?
What’s the big deal about dissonance? Well,
some people say that dissonance gets in the way of finding some sense of truth.
In general, if we want to understand the world,
then we want a clear, consistent picture of it.
And whenanything that makes us feel
inconsistency is something that’s a problem,
and we are motivated to restore consistency again. But most of the research
in dissonance has looked at something a little bit different,
and that idea is that it’s physically uncomfortable to experience cognitivedissonance.
There’s actually some negative physical tension
that you feel any time you
recognize two inconsistent thoughts orrealize that you’ve done something through
your behavior that contradicts your trueattitudes and beliefs.
And so lots of studies have shown that this is the case
by hooking up different sensors to people, or tricking them into
thinking that some pill makes them feel uncomfortable when in fact,
just their inconsistent thoughts is what’s doing it.
All of this research you can find more about in my blog post on this topic,
but suffice it to say that for the most part,
when you feel
cognitive dissonance, you’re feelingactual physical discomfort — you’re
feeling inner discomfort as well.
And anytime we feel bad, we want to feelbetter!
And to feel better, we just find a
way to be consistent again. That’s thedriving force behind cognitive dissonance.
It’s worth pointing out that there are a couple times when dissonance is
especially likely to motivate thisaction to resolve the inconsistency.
One of them is the perception that you had some choice over the inconsistency. So,
sometimes in cognitive dissonance studies,
what they’ll have people do is
agree to write some essay arguingagainst their own beliefs. So,
if you don’t believe that your school should raise tuition,
if you agree to
write an article saying that your school should increase tuition,
then that would be a case of dissonance. However,
it would only make you feel that dissonance and that motivation to
if you felt like you had a choice
over whether or not you wrote that essay.
If you didn’t have any choice…
if someone literally says,” You have to write an
essay before we can let you leave,
and it has to say’tuition increase is good,'”
well then, you didn’t have any choice over it,
and it’s not really that big of a problem.
It’s when you realize
that you did have a choice and you chose to do the thing
that contradicts your own opinions
that you have to then find some comfort
within yourself by resolving aninconsistency. In this case, convincing
yourself that you actually do liketuition increase.
The other thing that has to be there,
according to a bunch of research, is theperception of”aversive consequences.”
In other words,
you have to think that the inconsistency in your thoughts is
going to play out poorly for some reasonin the future. So,
let’s say you did write that essay saying tuition increases good.
If you believe
that a school administration is going to read that
论文然后说 嗨 你知道吗
essay and then say,” Hey, you know,
students think this is a good thing to do!
there is a negative consequence.
There isa negative consequence of your
Now you’re even more motivated
to resolve the inconsistency and figure out
a way to think that tuition increase actually is a good thing to do.
Hopefully this helps clarify whatcognitive dissonance is.
Now the next time you’re
at a party and someone throws around the term
“dissonance” (because you go to some prettycrazy parties),
you’ll now be able to nod your
head and actually know what they’re talking about.
See you next time!