In this lesson, we’ll talk about the theory of cognitive dissonance and strategies we can use to reduce the uncomfortable feelings associated with cognitive dissonance.
Have you ever done something that went against your beliefs in some way? Or did you start to believe something that conflicts with a long-standing belief of yours? If this has ever happened to you, you might recall that you felt a certain discomfort. When our behaviors and beliefs conflict or do not align in some way, we might feel cognitive dissonance, which is a sense of discomfort that arises when this happens. We generally try to avoid this feeling, which might mean changing some of our beliefs or behaviors.
We’ll talk about that soon, but for now let’s talk a bit more about cognitive dissonance.
Leon Festinger was a social psychologist who produced some of the most influential work on cognitive dissonance. Festinger was interested in exploring how we maintain consistency in our thoughts and actions, and what happens if we don’t maintain this consistency. Festinger’s theory has a few important assumptions. First, Festinger realized that humans are aware when we have inconsistencies in our thoughts and behaviors. So, for example, if you believe that large cars are damaging to the environment but you own an SUV, you’ll be aware of this when you’re driving. There’s an inconsistency between something you believe and something you’re doing in this case.
Festinger then proposed that once we recognize we’re experiencing this dissonance, we’re going to want to do something about it. Basically, we’ll want to resolve it. According to Festinger, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll just ignore this dissonance. So what do we do about it? Let’s talk about ways of reducing cognitive dissonance.
Reducing Cognitive Dissonance
Festinger has a few ideas about how one might overcome cognitive dissonance. For one thing, we could change our beliefs.
This is probably the easiest approach. Basically, if you believe one thing but are acting in another way, changing your belief system will alleviate the disconnect between thoughts and action. For example, if you change your beliefs about oversized cars being bad for the environment, then you won’t experience dissonance when you’re driving.
But the problem with this approach to reducing dissonance is that our beliefs are pretty stable most of the time. So, while this might seem like the easiest approach to reducing dissonance, in practice it’s not all that common. It’s not that easy for us to simply change our beliefs.A second approach to reducing dissonance is to change our actions. This means you simply won’t do whatever behavior caused you the dissonance. So, just never drive your oversized car again.
You might go and trade it in for a smaller model. But the problem with this approach is that we might simply learn to deal with feeling bad about our actions. This is especially true if we happen to benefit from this behavior in some way.The trick is really to change our perception of the action. This is the most common way to resolve cognitive dissonance, but it’s a little more complicated than the others. Essentially this means that we find a way to rationalize our beliefs. We might say something like, ”It’s not so bad to drive a big car; it’s not really that big of an impact.
” Or, ”One extra car on the road doesn’t really make a difference.” This approach give us a way to continue engaging in the behavior without drastically altering our beliefs.
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling we might experience when our beliefs and our actions are in conflict with one another. If we act in a way that is inconsistent with some deeply-held belief, then we’re likely to experience some discomfort. The social psychologist Leon Festinger was the pioneer of cognitive dissonance theory. Festinger noticed that when we experience this discomfort, we’re very likely to take steps to resolve this feeling.
There are a few different ways we could go about reducing cognitive dissonance. First, we could change our beliefs. This is probably the easiest approach in theory, but it is often not that simple to simply change our beliefs, especially if they are deeply held. Another approach is to change our behavior.
So, by this strategy, we’d simply stop doing the behavior that caused us dissonance. But the most common way to reduce dissonance is to change our perception of the action that is misaligned with our beliefs. This is basically a way of rationalizing our actions. This is kind of a tricky way to continue a certain action without changing our conflicting beliefs about that action.