How to define cognitive dissonance? Cognitive dissonance is an interesting concept related to psychology that is used to describe the uncomfortable feeling we experience when one tightly held belief, idea, value, emotion or “cognition” conflicts with another. The discrepancy between the two must be resolved in order for the dissonance to be reduced or eliminated entirely.
How to define cognitive dissonance in social psychology
In social psychology, cognitive dissonance occurs when a group of people hold conflicting views and are therefore driven to reduce the dissonance by changing their point of view and coming round to another’s way of thinking. Anxiety and heightened emotions can occur as a result of the discord, and even if some people in the group are convinced that the prevailing viewpoint is wrong, they will still concede to the majority in order to reduce conflict.
Who first defined the concept of cognitive dissonance?
The concept of cognitive dissonance was first defined by Leon Festinger in his book “When Prophecy Fails”. Published in 1956, the book charted the progress of a UFO cult and described what happened when their apocalypse failed to come to pass as the leaders had predicted—somewhat predictably, the group decided that they had obviously been spared in order to spread their teachings to the wider world, which effectively resolved the conflict between expectation and reality.
Cognitive dissonance occurs all the time. It happens when we make an ill-thought out purchase at the sales—the poisonous green dress that looked so good on the hanger is completely unflattering, but we reason that it might look better under the dark jacket we bought last week, and besides, it was a bargain at 50% off the normal price!
Smoking cigarettes is another classic example of cognitive dissonance in action. We continue smoking despite the stark warnings about cancer on the packet—although we understand smoking is bad for our health we reason that we might be struck by lightening tomorrow, so why worry?
Examples of cognitive dissonance in relationships
Relationships are a fertile example of the theory of cognitive dissonance at work. For example:
Jill meets Martin at a party. She is looking for a stable relationship as she is ready to settle down and have kids, but once they start dating, Jill eventually finds out that Martin is in no hurry to settle down and he does not want children because he already has a son from a previous relationship. So even though Jill has misgivings about the long term future of their relationship, because she has fallen in love with the charming Martin, she tells herself that he will change his mind in time because he loves her too. And so Jill’s internal conflict is resolved and the relationship moves forward.
Why is cognitive dissonance considered to be so important in social psychology?
Understanding how cognitive dissonance works is very important because it plays a massive role in how decisions are made in the face of conflicting beliefs. Once you realise why you are making decisions, you can use this knowledge to make a better and more informed choice based on the facts rather than a desire to subconsciously reduce conflict.