Cognitive dissonance: summary
Cognitive dissonance is a theory of social psychology that describes the complex cognitive processing we carry out when we have to reconcile conflicting concepts in our mind
The theory of cognitive dissonance was introduced in 1957 by Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist who lived between 1919 and 1989.
Subsequently, the theory was resumed and adapted to the clinical setting by the German (naturalized American) psychologist Milton Erickson.
Cognitive dissonance defines the discomfort and tension generated by the presence in our mind of two incompatible ideas or by the discrepancy between our values and our actions.
The classic academic example of cognitive dissonance is people’s resistance to change, even when the situation is objectively disadvantageous. Think for example of a woman living with an abusive partner. It is impossible to find a rational reason to stay next to someone who beats you, however, the victim manages to deceive himself and, in the most serious cases, even to justify his executioner. Cognitive dissonance explains how this is possible.
Our reaction to cognitive dissonance
When there are two irreconcilable elements in our head, we try to eliminate one and stop everything that could feed it.
In short, we act to reduce cognitive dissonance.
In the example of domestic violence, the victim could minimize the beatings, telling herself that it is an isolated event, putting them on a balance of pros and cons advantageous for the perpetrator, even there are women who come to blame themselves for the violent conduct of the partner. Everything to eliminate the tension between two irreconcilable elements: love and violence.
“He is my partner, I choose him, I love him, he can’t hurt me.”
More generally, there are several ways to reduce cognitive dissonance. Change context, act differently, look for new information that reduces the impact of the idea we want to eliminate.
Three ways to reduce cognitive dissonance
According to Festinger, there are three ways to reduce cognitive dissonance:
# 1 Change a thought to make it more consistent with the other: if a person spends too much money and thinks at the same time that he has to accumulate it, he should change one of the two behaviors in one way or another.
# 2 Increase the evidence in favor of inconsistent behavior: in the face of the evidence that drinking too much is bad, those who take advantage of this behavior will tend to defend it also by making use of maxims, such as: ‘wine makes good blood’.
# 3 Decrease the dissonance: make the positions taken are less discordant; a person who has very high cholesterol should not ingest fatty foods, but this would become unbearable to the point of thinking that a happy life is better than one full of sacrifices and sacrifices.
Life, I justify myself!
When I was in school, the teacher gave us two bonus justifications to use throughout the year. On interrogation day, it was enough to raise your hand and say “Prof. I justify” to get out of the list of questionable persons.
With cognitive dissonance it works more or less like this, only on the other side instead of the teacher, there is life.
The anxiety, anguish, and tension of doing the wrong thing (for example by staying with the abusive partner) force me to invent a credible justification for my behavior.
“He beat me again, I should have left the first time he did it … no, I couldn’t, I had nowhere to go!”