Cognitive Dissonance

What do you see?

The bar in the middle of this image seems
to blend from light gray to dark gray.

In reality, the horizontal bar is solid gray and only the
background is a color gradient.

Our brains are quite susceptible to deceit. Just
hold a pencil up to one eye and look out the window – the pencil will appear see-through
because your brain fills in missing information to complete the view. Magicians and illusionists have taken advantage of these
shortcomings of our minds for centuries.

If you think you are generally less deluded than other
people, think again. A delusion is similar to a stealth computer virus – it operates
unconsciously. Our brain’s quest to eliminate cognitive dissonance is one such

What is cognitive

Cognitive relates to mental processes such as thinking,
reasoning, forming opinions, and remembering.

The word dissonance describes a lack of harmony, a discord,
clash or tension.

Cognitive dissonance is a ‘bad feeling’ that arises from holding two conflicting beliefs,
attitudes, etc. at one time.

For example, a manager’s belief that he/she is a “well-liked,
reputable and respectable manager who inspires employees to do their best” is
dissonant with information that suggests a dramatic increase in employee theft.

How does my mind
respond to cognitive dissonance?

If cognitive dissonance exists, we are programmed to reduce

The manager in the example is
motivated to reduce the psychological conflict. There are two options:

  • Change thoughts or behavior
    (For example, “The data suggests employee theft, but it must be something else.”)

  • Add thoughts
    (For example, “Is it possible that one
    of our suppliers is ripping us off?”)

Our motivation to minimize cognitive dissonance can cause us
to behave irrationally, justify a behavior or attitude or experience other delusions
in the form of cognitive biases.

How can I use this

Next time you catch yourself rationalizing (or feeling guilty,
embarrassed), try to identify the two underlying, clashing cognitions.

Understanding and accepting our natural responses to
cognitive dissonance can help you

  • keep your calm when dealing with irrational

  • increase self-awareness and make better
    decisions faster

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