Question: What Is Cognitive Dissonance?
People tend to seek consistency in their beliefs and perceptions. So what happens when one of our beliefs conflicts with another previously held belief? The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance.
How exactly does cognitive dissonance work and how does it influence how we think and behave?
Cognitive dissonance can often have a powerful influence on our behaviors and actions. Let's start by looking at some examples of how this works.
Examples of Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance can occur in many areas of life, but it is particularly evident in situations where an individual's behavior conflicts with beliefs that are integral to his or her self-identity. For example, consider a situation in which a man who places a value on being environmentally responsible just purchased a new car that he later discovers does not get great gas mileage.The conflict:
- It is important for the man to take care of the environment.
- He is driving a car that is not environmentally-friendly.
In order to reduce this dissonance between belief and behavior, he has a few difference choices. He can sell the car and purchase another one that gets better gas mileage or he can reduce his emphasis on environmental-responsibility. In the case of the second option, his dissonance could be further minimized by engaging in actions that reduce the impact of driving a gas-guzzling vehicle, such as utilizing public transportation more frequently or riding his bike to work on occasion.
A more common example of cognitive dissonance occurs in the purchasing decisions we make on a regular basis. Most people want to hold the belief that they make good choices. When a product or item we purchase turns out badly, it conflicts with our previously existing belief about our decision-making abilities.
How to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance
There are three key strategies to reduce or minimize cognitive dissonance:
- Focus on more supportive beliefs that outweigh the dissonant belief or behavior.
- Reduce the importance of the conflicting belief.
- Change the conflicting belief so that it is consistent with other beliefs or behaviors.
Why is Cognitive Dissonance Important?
Cognitive dissonance plays a role in many value judgments, decisions and evaluations. 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.
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