Cognitive dissonance: what is it? how to mitigate it?

Cognitive dissonance: what is it?  how to mitigate it?

What is cognitive dissonance? What types of situations do we face? How and why reduce this state of dissonance? We take stock with psychologist Cédric Daudon.

This theory was first proposed in 1957 by the American psychologist Leon Festinger in his work A theory of cognitive dissonance(Stanford University Press). Leon Festinger is also the co-author of When Prophecy Fails, 1956, an American essay considered a classic of social psychology seeking to analyze how individuals react following the refutation of a belief to which they strongly adhered. Since then, many researchers have studied cognitive dissonance. throughout history. The effect of certain situations, the rationalization of the individual or even the act induced by the opposition between cognitions and behavior interest psychology experts.

Cognitive dissonance: definition

The major paradigms of cognitive dissonance:

Among the main paradigms of cognitive dissonance, we find in particular that of the persistence of refuted beliefs and the paradigm of induced (or forced) submission.

  • The paradigm of the persistence of refuted beliefs. When we are convinced of something that is not happening, we may tend to believe something less dissonant than reality, because it is less distant from their initial beliefs. This is what Leon Festinger and his colleagues illustrate in “The Failure of a Prophecy”.
  • The paradigm of induced submission. In 1959, Festinger and Carlsmith asked students to waste an hour on boring tasks. Some were paid better than others. At the end, they were asked to evaluate their tasks. The best paid students judged them to be more satisfactory, thus feeling more in agreement with their actions. Another example of induced submission: The forbidden toy paradigm. In 1963, during a study carried out on children, Aronson and Carlsmith demonstrated that a state of dissonance could be aroused by causing a person – in this case children – to voluntarily deprive themselves of an attractive object.

Examples of cognitive dissonance:

  • A typical example of cognitive dissonance is found in individuals who smoke, as the psychologist illustrates: “They know full well that smoking is bad for their health and will tend to reduce this dissonance – most often by reducing their cognition more than their behavior – that is to say they will readjust their thoughts by declaring that ‘they can quit whenever they want or by declaring that they don’t smoke much’. This cognitive bias will reassure them and make them feel less guilty. However, he nuances, “if this individual really wanted to stop this dissonance, it would be better to work on his behavior: stop smoking”. It would then be a consonance cognitiveas Festinger develops through his theory, that is to say that cognitions and actions are consistent with each other.
  • The same goes if an individual wants to lose weight, but is unable to eat less/better. The person is in contradiction with his aspirations and his behavior. To move towards reducing this dissonance, she will say that she will go on a diet tomorrow or that she is too stressed at the moment. In short, objectify to try to convince the other that their behavior is appropriate, even if their action is not in agreement with their thoughts.
  • Another case of dissonance: we are invited to a party where we don’t know many people and we are apprehensive because we don’t feel comfortable. Concretely, we don’t want to go there, but we go there because socially, we feel obliged to do so. However, afterwards, when we are asked how the evening went, we tend to reduce this dissonance by answering that it was good. Whether it’s true or not.
  • In advertising and marketing, we also play a lot with dissonance. An ad can create a desire, a desire, even though the consumer is aware of not needing the said object.. Typically, wanting to buy the new iPhone even if you know, rationally, that you don’t need it. Two solutions then present themselves to us according to the psychologist: “Either we curb our desire to purchase to attenuate this dissonance, or we succumb to it by trying to convince our loved ones that the camera is truly extraordinary, for example. A speech, a piece of information, a thought which justifies our attitude, our decision and frees us from the discomfort caused by this dissonance by putting us back in tune with ourselves. The consumer is a great example to illustrate cognitive dissonance. Moreover, marketing courses study this type of behavior.
  • Within a group of children, there can be dissonance among one of them if the group of friends annoys or excludes one of their own, for example. “One of the children disagrees with the attitude of his group – he is aware that it is wrong to act like this – but, don’t you dare say it and never mind by social conformitydesire to remain integrated, within the norm”notes Cédric Daudon.
  • Same thing if you are anti-violence and suddenly get attacked. We can then find ourselves in a situation of dissonance with the obligation to defend ourselves despite everything.

Cognitive dissonance, inevitable?

“We all deal with cognitive dissonance every day in life”recalls Cédric Daudon “and this is not necessarily a bad thing, it all depends on the state of internal tension caused”. For example, every time we make a choice, this leads to cognitive dissonance, the individual having to give up the other choice and find reasons justifying not having chosen it. We then talk about rationalisation cognitive. In love too, we can falling in love with a person even though we are aware that they do not correspond to our needs and expectations. Besides, when we ask ourselves why we have feelings for this person, we generally don’t know how to explain it. “This is particularly the case for toxic relationshipsthe person is aware that this relationship is making them suffer, but still remains”, he notes. To reduce this dissonance, the spouse will emphasize the qualities of the other, sometimes even if it means falling into denial. But, the most classic dissonance in a couple consists of taking turns concessionstake it upon yourself, to please others and achieve a balance that suits everyone.

In what cases can this dissonance become problematic?

We are therefore all subject to small everyday dissonances. If the dissonance is slight, does not impact us too much in our value system, we tend towards cognitive flexibility. “It is important to have it, otherwise we fall into the opposite extreme, namely psychorigidity, reports the psychologist. On the other hand, when it affects important value systems like justice, ecology or politics, it can become more difficult to manage. Being very eco-friendly and finding yourself spending a stay with someone who is absolutely not eco-friendly can create a significant dissonance between our conviction and our obligation to adapt to the behavior and attitudes of the other. It also happens that parents find themselves in a situation of dissonance in their behavior with their children, contradictory with their educational values. For example, if they get angry and feel guilty, they experience a state of dissonance. However, reassures the psychologist, “if this dissonance is exceptional, it should not define them”. On the other hand, “if the situation repeats itself and becomes problematic, it may be useful to consult to understand why the person is acting in this way and to modify their behavior”, he suggests. During cognitive therapy (CBT) “in certain cases, like that of smokers, it is the behavior that will have to be changed in the patient and not the cognition. In others, it will be the cognition that will have to be worked on so that the person has more flexibility towards herself, analyzes the psychologist. But, most of the time, we manage to adjust or live with this dissonance, because it does not constitute a disorder or a pathology.