Welcome to Influence, Psychology and Persuasion

This is session number 013 of Influence Psychology and Persuasion. This show is all about cognitive dissonance and how we can use it to improve our lives and outcomes dramatically.

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

This term refers to the situation where you have an internal conflict about your attitude, behaviours or a particular belief. Whenever you have this battle, it is known as cognitive dissonance, and it comes with a feeling of discomfort and in most cases the need to rationalise or reframe to realign those beliefs, thoughts, actions etc.

An example would be: people smoking (their behaviour) yet they know it causes cancer and other serious diseases (their cognition). The cognitive dissonance would then show when a person would try to rationalise, reframe or make it right for them. “I’ve always done it, and it gives me a timeout.”

This is a theory that was presented by Leon Festinger in 1957. When he proposed this cognitive dissonance theory, he explained that people want to remain consistent in their initial actions, and beliefs and this can give rise to irrational thinking and even maladaptive behaviour.

A fantastic study that was done by Leon Festinger when he was observing as a participant of a cult. They believed the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood. Some of the extremely committed members of this sect had even given up their jobs and their homes to work for the cult full time. Festinger wondered what would happen to the members’ beliefs when the occasion arose and the flood did not occur. When that time did emerge, some of the fringe members recognised that they had been misinformed or perhaps began building beliefs unnecessarily left the group. However, those more experienced or committed members started to reinterpret or re-frame the evidence to show that there were right all along. Even though before the event was to happen they were certain that the Earth would end through flood and that members of the cult would be taken away to safety.

Almost instantly, the most committed and experienced of the group fabricated a new justification of why the earth didn’t come to an end. This further compounded their belief.

See Why We Like What’s Familiar for more on this.

Dissonance can be reduced in one of three ways:

The first element is the person can change their attitudes, beliefs and behaviour. By aligning the two aspects, the dissonance is removed. But this is often very difficult as the behaviours and responses have been well ingrained and well learned over time.

The second element would have to be a cognition. Excepting new information would allow a person to become enlightened from a discovery if they were willing to accept it. Remember what I said earlier, people are very quick to try to reframe the situation rather than take in the information and use it as a lesson learnt.

The third element is to let it go simply. What this means is reduce the importance, or as I like to say, “drop the ego”. Just become more accepting that your beliefs, actions and behaviours will be challenged throughout your life and each of these challenges is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Cognitive dissonance can be used. Being a practical type I’m always looking for ways to improve, adapt and change.

I like to view cognitive dissonance as a sign and a signal that there is something to learn.

Any-time you get tapped on the shoulder by that feeling of conflict regarding a belief, action or behaviour that you have Just stop and think for a moment, “what if?” What if I can learn something from this, what if I can adapt my cognition or my actions to create fast-track improved outcomes the next time.

I’ve just finished reading a book called Black Box Thinking, and it talks in depth about cognitive dissonance and gives various examples. There is a definite correlation between experience, experts and those held in high regard on specific topics and the level of cognitive dissonance. It seems the more you know, the more difficult it is to accept new learnings, discoveries and new findings. Experts and academics are troubled with extreme levels of cognitive dissonance to protect themselves and their beliefs.

The medical profession is highlighted as a real problem for cognitive dissonance. Science is ever-changing, so are medicines and techniques. Therefore the medical profession is always battling with old beliefs that are being challenged.

Always wonder what you don’t know, this will allow you to grow!