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 woman who values financial security is in a relationship with a man who is financially irresponsible.

The conflict:

  • It is important for her to be financially secure.
  • She is dating a man who is financially unstable.

In order to reduce this dissonance between belief and behavior, she can either leave the relationship or reduce her emphasis on financial security. In the case of the second option, dissonance could be further minimized by emphasizing the positive qualities of her significant other rather than focusing on his perceived flaws.

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.

Source: psychology.about.com