Cognitive Dissonance is the Discomfort We Experience from Conflicting Ideas

January 8, 2021
Cognitive dissonance describes how it takes a lot more mental energy to hold two conflicting ideas in one’s mind simultaneously. This excess mental energy is uncomfortable (and studies show it can even make us feel physical discomfort), therefore, this is often something we avoid at all costs. To understand cognitive dissonance in action, consider the following example. Consider the guilty and conflicted emotions you might feel when you want to eat an extra cookie but also believe that a consistent diet is important for your health. Believing that dieting is important but wanting to eat an extra cookie are contradictory or incompatible beliefs. To reconcile this inconsistency, there are a number of different tactics one could deploy. First, you might change one belief (e.g., rather than feel conflicted by the incongruent thoughts, you instead think “one more cookie isn’t really going to impact my health”). Alternatively, you might change our behavior (e.g., if I believe dieting is important, I will not eat an extra cookie). A third tactic to resolve this inconsistent thinking could be to rationalize your behavior (e.g., I do believe diet is important to my health and I do want to eat an extra cookie, but I also exercise regularly so the impact of the cookie won’t really be felt). Finally, you might trivialize the thought altogether to solve for your inconsistent thinking (e.g., rather than feel conflicted by the incongruent thoughts, you instead think “diet doesn’t really matter to my overall health”). Each of these tactics are ways we solve for the discomfort of cognitive dissonance so we can perceive ourselves as rational and consistent beings.
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What is Cognitive Dissonance?
Aronson, E. (1969). The theory of cognitive dissonance: A current perspective. Advances in experimental social psychology, 4(1), 34.

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