Senior Communication Major at Spring Arbor University
I have heard about the idea of cognitive dissonance in many of my psychology and communication classes at SAU. The basic idea is that when people encounter knowledge or an experience that does not line up with what they believe, it causes them to experience anxiety or “dissonance,” leading to either a change in behavior or in their view. This can lead people to avoid situations that will cause cognitive dissonance because it is uncomfortable.
For example, a heavy smoker may avoid a workshop on the dangers of smoking, because hearing about the dangers of smoking would be uncomfortable due to his habit. In order to ease his dissonance, he would either need to dismiss the workshop as invalid or quit smoking – thus, he may avoid the workshop altogether. As an article from psychcentral.com entitled Fighting Cognitive Dissonance & the Lies We Tell Ourselves by John Grohol puts it, “we may limit our intake of new information or thinking about things in ways that don’t fit within our pre-existing beliefs.”
Most people will justify their behavior when faced with cognitive dissonance, even when given evidence that suggests otherwise. People always want to convince themselves that they are okay.
According to Grohol, “People with a higher need for consistency and certainty in their lives usually feel the effects of cognitive dissonance more than those who have a lesser need for such consistency.” I would say that have a high need for consistency in my life. Because of this, if I see an inconsistency in my life, I will often go to great lengths to change it, explain it away, or ignore it. It bothers me if I am aware of it.
Grohol says that basically, the ways that we avoid cognitive dissonance are telling lies to ourselves. He argues that whether or not the cognitive dissonance will negatively affect us depends upon how large of a lie it is. Grohol asserts that in order to make sure cognitive dissonance does not hurt us, we need to be self-aware.
While I do agree with Grohol that cognitive dissonance can have many negative effects, I see many benefits to artists and communicators using it to move people to action. Artists and people wanting to persuade need to know how to present evidence in such a way that people experience discomfort if their actions or views do not line up.
One thing that I find fascinating is that when people experience cognitive dissonance, it may bother them for a time, but then they find themselves distracted by the busyness and technology in their lives and forget, about their discomfort. Perhaps one of the reasons many people fill their lives with so much STUFF is to avoid cognitive dissonance.
I have been processing what this means for what I want to do in the future lately. Cognitive dissonance has often caused me to make positive life changes, and I would like what I create to do that for others.