Cognitive Dissonance: my mind lies to me

Cognitive Dissonance: my mind lies to me

Cognitive dissonance It is the term coined by the psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954 to describe "the feeling of psychological discomfort produced by the combined presence of two thoughts that do not follow each other." Festinger proposed that the greater the discomfort, the greater the desire to reduce Dissonance of the two cognitive elements.


  • 1 The Theory of Cognitive Disconance
  • 2 So what to do with Cognitive Dissonance?
  • 3 Can we change our personality?
  • 4 Cognitive Dissonance as therapy

The Theory of Cognitive Disconance

Dissonance theory suggests that if individuals act in ways that contradict their beliefs, then they will usually change their beliefs to align with their actions (or vice versa)

The easiest way to describe the concept is with an example. Let's say you are a student in the process of choosing between two different universities that you would like to go to. After being accepted in both, you are asked to freely evaluate the universities after considering the pros and cons of each university. You make your decision and you are asked to value the two universities once again. People usually rate the university chosen as the best and the option rejected in the worst position after making a decision.

So even if the university we did not choose obtained a higher ranking at first, our subsequent election dictates that from now on it will no longer happen. Otherwise, it would not make sense because we are not going to choose the university with the lowest score, right? This is the cognitive dissonance at work.

Another clear example can be seen in many of the people who continue to smoke two or three packs of cigarettes a day, although research shows that they are shortening their own lives and putting their health at serious risk. But they respond to this cognitive dissonance with thoughts like: "Well, I've tried to quit smoking and it's too hard," or "It's not as bad as they say, and besides, I really like smoking." Daily smokers justify their behaviors through rationalizations or denial, just as most people do when faced with cognitive dissonance.

Not everyone feels cognitive dissonance in the same degree. People with a greater need for consistency and security in their life usually feel the effects of cognitive dissonance more than those who have a lower need for such consistency..

We don't like to believe that we can be wrong, so we tend to limit our assimilation of new information or to think about things that don't fit into our preexisting beliefs. Psychologists call this "confirmation bias."

Nor do we like to believe that we are wrong in making decisions and that we are not as "wise" as we thought. For this reason we tend to justify our decisions of the past as rationally as possible. This can lead us to make more than one mistake by rejecting alternatives, perhaps better ones, that could lead us in another way. That is why many people try to avoid or minimize regret in their lives, and seek "closure" or a definitive end to an event or relationship. This reduces the possibility of future cognitive dissonance.

So what to do with Cognitive Dissonance?

But despite all the studies on cognitive dissonance, little has been written about what to do about it (or if it should even matter). If our brains have evolved to think in this way and to help protect our own worldview, or sense of self or follow through a commitment, is this a bad thing to try to undo?

People can have problems with cognitive dissonance, since it can be, in its most basic form, a kind of lie towards oneself. As with all lies, it all depends on the size of the lie and the probability that it will harm you in the future.

We say "white lies" every day in our social lives ("Oh, yes, that's a great color in you") That they don't do great damage and help soften compromised situations. Thus, while cognitive dissonance resolves our internal anxiety, by facing more than two opposing beliefs or behaviors, it can also inadvertently reinforce future bad decisions.

Matz and his collaborators (2008) showed that our personality can help mediate the effects of cognitive dissonance. They found that people who were extroverts were less likely to feel the negative impact of cognitive dissonance and they were also less likely to change their mind. Introverts, meanwhile, they experienced an increase in discomfort in the face of disharmony and were more likely to change their attitude to match most in the experiment

Can we change our personality?

Awareness of ourselves seems to be a key to understanding how and when cognitive dissonance can play a role in our lives.. If we need to justify or rationalize decisions or behaviors constantly, it is that we are not very clear about our beliefs, which could be a sign of cognitive dissonance at work. If our explanation for something is: "Well, that's the way I've always done it or thought about it," this can also be a sign. Socrates said that "An unexamined life is not worth living." In other words, our challenge will be to be skeptical about these answers.

The awareness of ourselves can help in the treatment of cognitive dissonance, especially when examining the commitments and decisions we make in our lives. If we observe that we move forward with our thoughts and our actions, making us feel better, maybe the disharmony was trying to tell us something. Although sometimes it is advisable to question our actions a posteriori in case it is necessary to make a different decision. We may be wrong and we must recognize it in time, so as not to continue along the same path. Admitting, apologizing if necessary, and moving on, as it can save us a lot of time, mental energy and hurt feelings.

Cognitive Dissonance as therapy

Cognitive dissonance is not always a bad thing, It has been used successfully to help people change their attitudes and unhealthy behaviors. For example, if a woman has the belief that women should be super thin and not eat healthy, cognitive dissonance can be used to successfully change those types of beliefs (Becker et al., 2008). It has also been used successfully to change an excessive dependence on online games, anger, anger and many other negative behaviors.

In these types of interventions, the most used model is to try to get people to understand their current attitudes and behaviors, the costs involved in asserting these attitudes and in negative behaviors. This is done with role plays and other self-affirmation exercises to help the person be more conscious and constantly challenge attitudes and behaviors. Most of these techniques share a common connection with traditional cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy techniques.

So that, Before justifying yourself to your behaviors, think and become truly aware, maybe you could have done something different