“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” Frantz Fanon
Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced by a person when they were absolutely sure something was true and they find out it is completely not true. Instead of admitting they were wrong, people tend to use a defence mechanism to protect themselves against the discomfort, re-engineering the story to modify, trivialise or deny the facts to assure themselves that they were right all along.
“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” Leon Festinger
Everyone experiences cognitive dissonance to some degree, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy to recognise. Some signs relating to dissonance include:
- Feeling uncomfortable before doing something or making a decision.
- Trying to justify or rationalise a decision that you’ve made or an action you have taken.
- Feeling embarrassed or ashamed about something you’ve done and trying to hide your actions from other people.
- Experiencing guilt or regret about something you’ve done previously.
- Doing things because of social pressure or a fear of missing out, even if it wasn’t something you wanted to do.
Cognitive dissonance has a powerful influence on our behaviours and actions and plays a role in many value judgments, decisions, and evaluations.
The extent to which we experience cognitive will depend on several factors, including:
- The importance we attach to the beliefs, the higher we attach an importance, such as beliefs about self, the greater the dissonance is likely to be.
- The more dissonant thoughts you have, the greater the strength the dissonance will be.
Becoming aware of how conflicting beliefs impact the decision-making process is a great way to improve your ability to make faster and more accurate choices.
We can use a variety of strategies to resolve or reduce our dissonance, including:
- Changing our existing beliefs through changing one or more of the attitudes, behaviours and beliefs we hold.
- Acquiring new information to outweigh our dissonant beliefs.
- Reducing the importance of beliefs, behaviours and actions by increasing our knowledge or the attractiveness of the alternative belief.
“When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance.” Leon Festinger
This blog was written by Bretta Townend-Jowitt, Education Consultant and Trainer.
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