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What is Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance definition, it’s conflicting beliefs, thoughts and attitudes about a situation which leads to feelings of unease about that conflict.

Leon Festinger came up with the theory of cognitive dissonance. It’s about how people have a desire for consistency in their minds. Where there is inconsistency there is mental and psychological discomfort. The mind looks to protect us from this discomfort.

It’s believed that we have a natural inner drive for everything to be in harmony with each other, such as our attitudes, thoughts and beliefs. When these things are not in harmony this is referred to as dissonance. See the Consistency Principle for more on this.

The level of dissonance we experience depends on a few factors
  • How well we can rationalize any conflict(Dissonance).
  • The level of conflict between the different thoughts or beliefs.
  • The level of importance of the conflict on a personal scale.
Examples of Cognitive Dissonance

Somebody spending on their credit card when they know they may struggle to pay it back and knowing it will cause them stress or worry in the long term.

Somebody taking drugs when they know it could harm their health and the conflicting feelings that may result from it.

When these conflicts happen the mind can work to deceive us into thinking there is harmony when there is conflict. Inconsistent beliefs or ways of thinking are unacceptable to our unconscious minds so the mind will look to create harmony which often results on irrational ways of thinking to justify our actions.

Example of the mind causing irrational thinking to create harmony

If somebody smokes and they understand it could have serious long term health problems. The mind will look for ways to justify why they are smoking, someone may look for other research which suggests smoking is not a serious health risk and choose to believe that, therefore creating harmony. They may also convince themselves that the positive benefits of smoking such as stress relief outweighs any possible harmful effects.

Thoughts on Cognitive Dissonance

Our minds may protect us from dissonance, it achieves this by deceiving us and irrational thinking. There may be nothing wrong with a little self deception, this happens to us all. However like most things, too much of it may lead to psychological problems and imbalances in our lives.

Some people naturally will be able to deal with differing levels of dissonance, so the levels of self deception and irrational thinking will also be affected.

Other contributing factors will be age, gender, emotional control or problems and an overall state of mind including personal beliefs and morals.

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