Cognitive Dissonance

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced his rerun for the presidency re-election 2020. Though the polls suggests that he is not favourable to win again but he is very optimistic and suggested that the polls are fake. He may or may not be right about it, but still the question here is why do people tend to believe something to be true even when the evidence suggests the exact opposite? One of the reasons for this is a psychological phenomena known as Cognitive Dissonance and the beauty is, it happens without our conscious knowledge.

So, What is Cognitive Dissonance Theory?

Let me relate it with a fable which we all might have read when we were kids, “The Fox and the Grapes”. The story goes like this, one day a hungry fox saw some grapes hanging on a wine. He tried to jump and reach them but was unsuccessful in doing so. After trying for a long time, he started to believe that the grapes are anyways not ripe and he doesn’t need sour grapes. Here, the fox is undergoing two different psychological state, one being hunger and the other being the inability to reach the food.

This is a typical example of cognitive dissonance which states that a feeling of discomfort arises whenever there is a contradiction between our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The word dissonance means anxiety which arises due to inconsistency. People need to have consistency between their attitudes and behaviour, and in order to reduce this discomfort our mind tries to reduce the inconsistency either by changing the behaviour or by modifying the attitude towards it. The same happened in case of the fox wherein it changed its attitude towards the grapes and thus, reducing his anxiety.

Proposed by Psychologist, Leon Festinger, Cognitive Dissonance is considered as a a need which is satisfied by keeping our beliefs and actions in sync. That is the reason why a smoker might believe the ill-effects of smoking on health is overrated, or a student who might cheat in an exam convinces himself that it’s not a big deal. People who are health conscious believe that exercise would lead to a healthy life and on the contrary others would argue that anyways we are going to die, then why take so much pain to workout. Thus, we notice that all these are self-fulfilling prophecies which we use in order to reduce the inconsistency between our thoughts and actions by giving justifications for each and every thing around us.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory Research by Leon Festinger – Leon Festinger in the year 1957 conducted a research which led to deeper understanding of the cognitive dissonance theory. The research was more popularly known as 1$ vs 20$ study. Basically, in this study, volunteers would be asked to do a very boring and monotonous task of rotating a coin by 45 degree over and over again for an hour. By the end of an hour half of the volunteers were paid 1$ while the other half were paid 20$ for their time and effort. When surveyed about the task, the volunteers who were paid 1$ agreed to the fact that it was a very boring and monotonous task which they didnt like much but to the surprise volunteers who were paid 20$ said that the task was really enjoyable and they liked it very much.

How come the same task gets two completely different feedback. This question led to the understanding of the concept of cognitive dissonance as the volunteers who got 1$ they told what they believed in, that is the task was monotonous or boring, while the volunteers who received 20$ considered the money here to be a huge motivator and thus believed that they have done something great in order to earn it.

Thus, the next time when you have a very strong belief on something, just realize that it is because your belief is in consistency to your behaviour and that is why you are too keen to justify it. Though, it may or may not be always true…

Food for Thought:

  1. Have you ever voted for a candidate and truly believed that he should only win for the betterment of the society?
  2. Have you ever doubted the integrity of the election if your favourite candidate loses?

Keep Thinking and Keep Learning!!!!

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