Cognitive dissonance: Definition, effects, and examples

It makes sense – to be the best people we can be, we like having predictability. Otherwise we would be spending our time weathering crises more than attending to our daily lives. The COVID-19 pandemic, an extreme public health crisis, cases rose to the hundred million and deaths at nearly four million worldwide. Reputable health organizations such as Lyu and Wehby studied the effects of wearing a face mask on the spread of COVID-19.

  • Recognizing when your beliefs and behaviors are in conflict — or recognizing when two beliefs seem to oppose one another — can help you parse out and better understand your values and what you stand for.
  • The expectation of shared beliefs, values, and attitudes from family members can additionally influence romantic relationships.
  • So if you smoke regularly, your actions likely misalign with your belief system.

Clearly, when people smoke cigarettes (their behavior) they are aware that they are imperiling their health (their cognition). But at the same time, they want to smoke because of the satisfaction it provides. This creates a strong mental tension that can be reduced by either changing their thinking about smoking or changing their smoking behavior (i.e., stop smoking). That is, changing their cognition that smoking is dangerous—through mental gymnastics like denial—or changing their behavior so that it’s consonant with the rational belief that smoking is hazardous would both reduce cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance: What to know

Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards. The bottom line is that cognitive dissonance isn’t fun at all, but when looked at from the right perspective, it can be exactly the thing that lights a fire in your soul to make some necessary and important life changes. Remember that you don’t have to do it alone, and that bettering your life may be hard, but you are so worth it.

  • This is exciting, because it means we’re always learning, but it can lead to cognitive dissonance.
  • In the effort-justification paradigm, researchers study situations where people voluntarily engage in unpleasant behavior in order to reach a higher goal.
  • It completely changes a person’s moral compass, which is why the choice they make to engage in these addictive behaviors is stronger than just willpower.

However, as the situation evolves the individual understands that it might be in his/her best interest to find a way to resolve the dissonant situation (see Kato, 2012, on changing coping strategies). The intensity of the emotion might increase, however, if an individual engages in a situation with the intention of trying to resolve dissonance in a constructive way but then realizes that it will not be possible. Thus, the dissonance-reduction process is sometimes a rather dynamic process where appraisals go back and forth several times before the individual finds a state of consonance. Once a reduction strategy is implemented, the individual’s response will feed back into the initial interpretation of the situation and a new evaluation will take place. For example, when the individual engages in a dissonant situation, a change/modification of the initial attitude might take place.

Cognitive Dissonance Causes

Anyone can experience this uneasiness when their feelings don’t align with their actions, says Rachelle Scott, M.D., a psychiatrist and ​​medical director of Mental Health at Eden Health in New York. Dissonance comes up when we realize there are two things opposing each other,” she explains. By bringing attention to the inconsistencies in our minds, cognitive dissonance may present an opportunity for growth. People who feel it could realize, for example, that they need to update their beliefs to reflect the truth, or change their behavior to better match the person they want to be. There are a variety of ways people are thought to resolve the sense of dissonance when cognitions don’t seem to fit together. They may include denying or compartmentalizing unwelcome thoughts, seeking to explain away a thought that doesn’t comport with others, or changing what one believes or one’s behavior.

cognitive dissonance treatment

Cognitive dissonance leads to the motivation to reduce the dissonance (Festinger, 1957). The stronger the discrepancy between thoughts, the greater the motivation to reduce it (Festinger, 1957). Importantly, the word “follow” in the phrase not only literally means move in the same direction as, but also lag behind a bit. Because the more complex parts of the brain that govern thinking and emotion require more time to unlearn old patterns and learn new ones than the motor regions that tend to respond and learn more quickly. We are committed to engaging with you and taking action based on your suggestions, complaints, and other feedback.

Did you like this? Share it!