Cognitive Dissonance

Dr. Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance deals with inconsistency and contradictions. People who hold two opposing beliefs or ideas at the same time, but believe in them equally, are experiencing cognitive dissonance. This often manifests itself as physical discomfort, thus causing people experiencing cognitive dissonance to change their thoughts or their behaviours to reduce this discomfort. Bringing harmony back to their cognition.

  • Modify.
  • Trivialize.
  • Add.
  • Deny.


Find An Analogy

“Finding analogies can lead to new thinking and breakthroughs. An analogy is something that is comparable to something else. You can find an analogy by asking yourself, ‘What is this like?’, or ‘In what situations has this problem been solved before?'”

I can think of a recent example of cognitive dissonance in action. When republicans are trying to defend what Donald Trump says, they might hold the opinion that making degrading comments about a woman’s appearance is wrong. But equally believe that he should be the next president. They may modify their thoughts and say “Making degrading comments about a women’s appearance isn’t that bad.” Or they may trivialize them and say “He doesn’t mean what he says, he’s just joking.” They can add to their thoughts and say “He may say these things but he’s a good leader.” Or they can even deny their cognitive dissonance and say “He never said those things, it’s all a lie.” All of this in an effort to relieve the discomfort they may feel about believing opposing thoughts simultaneously. Of course the thought that should change is that Donald Trump should not be the next president.

The Issue

In order to avoid this kind cognitive dissonance, people can ignore evidence and even alter their reality in an attempt to keep harmony with their beliefs. Religion is often used as an example, especially creationism. How can intelligent people believe that the world is 6000 years old, despite the majority of scientific study revealing the number to be closer to 4.5 billion? These kind of incongruities can be explained with cognitive dissonance. People can harbour negative and damaging beliefs because of this.

Fight or Flight