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What is cognitive dissonance?



Cognitive dissonance is when we are in two minds about something. This can be conflicting beliefs, ideas, emotions or values. You know that you will have a hangover the next day, but you have a lot to drink anyway. You know smoking is bad for you, but you’re dying for a cigarette. Sex is normal and natural, but you feel embarrassed about it.

Advertisers use our tendency towards cognitive dissonance to tempt us with instant gratification. We know getting into debt is bad, but we succumb to the temptation of having a credit card or store card. Advertisers will use slogans like ‘naughty, but nice’ to persuade us that it’s OK to be ‘naughty’ because it will bring us instant pleasure.

It is the instant pleasure that we often seek and we ignore the consequences of our actions.  Someone might appear to be sexually attractive, but have a morality that we disapprove of or maybe they have habits that we disapprove of, but we ignore them or play them down.

We  have a tendency to believe what we want to believe in the quest of instant pleasure or to escape what we see as threatening us. We are driven by a basic need to survive both as individuals and collectively as a species. Our need to survive makes us sociable animals who copy one another and try to fit into society. We are also tribal for the same reason, we form into groups for our own protection and are likely to reject weaker members of the group. We are likely to be party to attacking rival groups too.

Our collective survival as a species depends upon mating and having children. This can make us look around for a suitable mate and then cognitive dissonance can play a part in determining what we believe about prospective mates. We tend to believe what we want to believe, we ignore the negatives and only see the positives. There is also a dissonance between the need to mate and raise a family. A man might be torn between a sexy attractive mate and one who seems more homely and capable not only of having children, but caring for them. In that situation, the need for instant gratification and pleasure will often override the long-term need for someone who make a good mother.

We tend to think short-term and the long-term considerations are pushed to the back of our minds. We buy lottery tickets thinking that we might win this week. We don’t consider how much we might spend on lottery tickets over a twenty year period and never win.

This cognitive dissonance affects our daily lives. We tend to dress alike to fit into society. We conform to protocols and rules of behaviour, but when it suits us, we dress differently to achieve a short-term aim like attracting a mate. We break our diet by having one chocolate, for short-term gain and tell ourselves that we will do better tomorrow. We make excuses to put things off until tomorrow for short-term convenience.

Procrastination is putting things off, because we seek short-term solutions, short-term gratification and short-term answers. We can’t think ahead, plan or wait for tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, we have that pay-day loan and regret it, we have a hangover and regret drinking too much; or worse, the hot babe you married can’t cook, clean or do much else, but look good.

Is there a conflict in your mind today? Please comment and give us an example or what you’re in two minds about. There are more interesting blogs on the home page of a zillion ideas

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  1. Pingback: How understanding psychology can improve your life « Mike10613's Blog

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