Cognitive Dissonance

What we think and what we do: Why is there often such a big gap? Why do we go ahead and do things we know are immoral, wrong, or stupid, even though there is more than likely a bad consequence?

Psychologist, Leon Festinger, coined the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ when describing our state of mind when our actions are not consistent with our beliefs. A great example, we become frustrated, hit a child, even though we condemn violence against children.

More honest questions: Why do we find it so hard to recognize our own mistakes? Why do we defend ourselves and our actions when confronted with our shortcomings? Instead of admitting to our wrong-doing and asking for forgiveness, we resort to self-justification. To understand this action, it serves as a protective mechanism to help us sleep at night and frees us of our self-doubt. It also allows us to see only what we want, ignoring everything else that contradicts our skewed views. We then look for arguments that reinforce our position.

Changing Cognitive Dissonance: This is done by either changing our behavior or our attitude. Look at the following examples:

ATTITUDE: (‘Smoking is unhealthy!’) + BEHAVIOR: (‘I smoke!’) = COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

ATTITUDE: (‘Smoking is unhealthy, but it helps me relax!’) + BEHAVIOR: (‘I smoke!’) = CONSISTENCY

‘A great nation is like a great man: when he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.‘ – Lao Zi

Source – Krogerus, M., Tschappeler, R., The Decision Book – Models for Strategic Thinking. W. W. Norton & Co., New York / London.


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