What is Cognitive Dissonance? - Meaning, Types, & Effects
The theory of Cognitive Dissonance was first put forth by Leon Festinger, and it is based on how people attempt to achieve internal consistency. He postulated that humans have an innate need to make sure that their attitudes and actions are in line. People try to prevent the discord that results from inconsistent or competing views. The American Psychological Association defines cognitive dissonance as “an unpleasant psychological state resulting from inconsistency between two or more elements in a cognitive system.” The mental pain that occurs from having two contradictory views, values, or attitudes is what cognitive dissonance all about. Due to the desire for consistency in attitudes and perceptions, this conflict can make people feel uneasy or uncomfortable. People are driven to take activities to lessen uncomfortable feelings by the discrepancy between their beliefs and actions. Many efforts to release this tension, includes rejecting, explaining or ignoring new knowledge.
Here are a few instances of cognitive dissonance that you could encounter in yourself:
- You desire to be healthy, but you don’t engage in regular exercise or consume a balanced diet. As a result, you experience guilt.
- Although you’d prefer to increase your savings, you often spend more money right away. Later, you come to regret this choice, perhaps when faced with an unplanned expense that you are unable to pay for.
- Despite having a long to-do list, you choose to spend the day binge-watching your favorite series. You try to make it seem like you’ve worked hard all day because you don’t want your husband to find out.
Types of Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance can be categorized into five main categories: post-decisional dissonance, dissonance from wanting what we can’t have, disharmony from inconsistent attitude and conduct, dissonance from inconsistent commitment and information, and dissonance from inadequate reasoning. People who have invested in a certain perspective will go to considerable lengths to defend it when presented with opposing data.
When a decision is made that cannot be undone or that would be very difficult to undo, post-decisional discomfort results. When a person has made a difficult choice, this kind of cognitive dissonance happens because there are always facets of the rejected option that the chooser finds appealing. Choosing X over Y despite the fact that there are few differences between the two causes psychological dissonance; the action of choosing X is at odds with the thought that “There are certain elements of Y that I enjoy.”
Dissonance Caused by Desiring Things We Can’t Have:
There are things we would like to have but cannot for a variety of reasons, which cause dissonance when we want something we cannot have. When the sought-after “something” is of utmost importance, we may experience discordant cognitions that stress and upset us.
Dissonance as a Result of Attitude and Behavior Inconsistencies
When there are contradictions between our beliefs and actions, dissonance as a result of inconsistent attitudes and conduct results. This difference makes us uneasy and anxious.
Dissonance Resulting from Insufficient Justification:
When we devote a substantial quantity of time, energy, money, or effort yet obtain little to no return on the investment, we experience dissonance owing to insufficient reason. We might think that the effort was in vain or that the reward was stolen from us.
Dissonance because of Conflict between Information and Commitment:
When we commit to a belief, value, or ideal before obtaining all the facts, or when new information conflicts with the commitment we have made to a belief, dissonance results from the contradiction between commitment and information. Tension is brought on by conflicting beliefs.
Cognitive Dissonance in Relationships
Numerous factors in our lives are impacted by cognitive dissonance, which frequently results in conflict and misunderstanding. Relationship-related cognitive dissonance can be especially confusing. People in romantic relationships frequently are unaware of the impact this dissonance has on their interactions with their partners. People in toxic and abusive relationships may suffer persistent dissonance; however, an occasional lack of harmony is to be expected in every couple.
Cognitive dissonance frequently helps people and couples explore their values, beliefs, and aspirations and get a better understanding of how these things connect to their actions and interactions. This experience frequently strengthens relationships between couples and can be instructive. In almost every relationship, compromise is important. Making decisions like where to go on vacation or what board game to play won’t always lead to a lot of dissonances, but consistently sacrificing or disregarding one’s own beliefs or desires in order to satisfy a partner sometimes leads to internal conflicts and relationship issues.
When we’re looking out for a potential partner, the majority of us have a list of traits and values we want in that person. Maybe the person you want to share your life with should love kids and want a large family. Imagine if you and a man you met through a friend and had a lot in common. But he doesn’t want to have kids, even though almost all of your ideals are the same as his. He would prefer travel, which you believe you would also. Although you’ve always wanted a big family, you persuade yourself that a life spent traveling will eventually be more meaningful. In your heart that having children is more important to you than traveling the world, but you choose to disregard the warning signs in order to quell the dissonance you’re feeling.
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