We are living in a time with access to vast information about reality and how the world works. Yet many people cannot see this. The big question is why people sometimes seem stupid and unable to see what is right in front of them, even when it is right in front of them!! No matter how many facts or evidence you present, they just cannot see or accept the truth. It’s frustrating as heck!
The world right now is polarised over many issues and cognitive dissonance is occurring a lot, which is why it’s important to understand.
There is one perspective that believes there are many external things in the world that threaten their welfare and existence. This could include threats of war from unseen enemies, biological threats and killer viruses, threats of losing your job, your home, your friends, your family or your rights if you don’t do as you are directed by authority or the threat of people who do not comply with government mandates.
These people generally believe the government, authority and media are looking after them, always telling the truth and placing restrictions and imposing laws on the people for the common good and their best interests.
This is what they have been told their entire life and have no reason to believe otherwise. They have never been presented with any evidence to the contrary. Until now.
There is a second perspective that holds a completely opposing belief. Many of these people once believed the same as the first group, until they were presented with new and conflicting information. Through personal experience and observation, critical thinking, logic and rationale, and even intuition, they came to a view that the truth of the world was perhaps different to what they had been told.
These people generally believe the government, authority and media are NOT looking after them, often lies and manipulates, and place restrictions and impose laws on the people to create fear and control and serve their self-interest.
So how can two groups of people, living in the same world, hold such completely different perspectives? And how can someone not see what you see when you have mountains of facts and information. How can they seem so stupid?
What Is Cognitive Dissonance?
Let’s start with some simple definitions.
Cognitive is the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through the experiences of the senses, thought and emotion. Cognitive is the mental processes involved in learning, understanding and knowing things and processes information received through the body to generate new knowledge.
Dissonance is a combination of sounds or notes or things or information that are not pleasant together and are jarring or uncomfortable.
Cognitive Dissonance is the mental discomfort from holding two conflicting or contradicting beliefs, ideas or values at the same time. It can also occur when a person’s behaviours and actions, and thoughts and beliefs do not align.
In a state of cognitive dissonance, people will do whatever it takes to relieve the discomfort and conflict.
Causes Of Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance occurs in several ways.
- Forced compliance – When someone is forced to do publicly what they do not want to do privately, the dissonance is created between their beliefs (I did not want to do this) and their behaviour (I did it). When governments force someone to wear a mask, stay locked in their homes and away from people they love, AND they believe masks cause health problems, and closeness and connection to other people are important, this creates cognitive dissonance.
- New information – Learning new information can cause cognitive dissonance. For example, you may have believed your whole life the government and media act in your best interests. However, you may discover their directions and laws to place restrictions on the population due to a pandemic are not founded on any medical or lawful reasons, facts or evidence. You discover many doctors, lawyers and experts have been lobbying governments with very valid research and studies on the ineffectiveness of masks and lockdowns, and evidence of potential cures that and have been banned by governments. You also discover the government have refused to consider this information and the media has been censoring all these people. This creates massive cognitive dissonance in that what you have believed to be true your whole life may not be. You do not want to consider the possibilities of why the government and media would do this and may not be acting in your best interests.
- Decisions – Decisions create conflict in terms of pros and cons. Say you are asked to wear a mask or get a vaccine so that you can retain your job, travel or engage in other experiences. However, you have done considerable research that concludes for you, both of these requirements are not healthy, bad for you and may make you sick. However, you are being told that if you do this it is good for society and looks after other people. Both alternatives have good and bad points that conflict with each other and create cognitive dissonance. You have to weigh up what is most important and what you can live with to make a decision that aligns.
- Priorities – We may carry different priorities that create conflict, contradiction. For example, the well-being of your family might be very important. However, to provide the standard of home, opportunities and resources for them that you wish to, you have to spend long hours away from them working in a job you don’t love. If you take a job that allows you to spend more time with them, it pays a lot less money and you may not be able to give them the quality of life you want to.
- Effort – Humans often value most highly goals or outcomes which require the most effort to achieve. If we spent a great deal of time, effort and resources on something, such as a career, a relationship, a religion, or a lifetime of beliefs and behaviours and it turned out badly or we discover it is wrong we experience cognitive dissonance. To avoid this, we will emphasise only the positives and try to justify or convince ourselves it turned out well, it is right and was a good thing.
Results of Cognitive Dissonance
The results of cognitive dissonance are not pleasant. The internal conflict of thoughts and beliefs expands into feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, shame, regret, sadness or stress. The individual experiencing this may:
- Constantly try to rationalise their actions or choices.
- Try to hide their actions or beliefs from others.
- Avoid conversations or debates about specific topics
- Seek out information that supports their beliefs and behaviours.
- Avoid receiving or learning new information that goes against their existing beliefs.
- Ignore research, evidence, observation, personal experience and facts that cause cognitive dissonance.
For the person on the opposite end of this, it can be frustrating. They find it impossible to have any kind of conversation or discussion with the person and might be met with arguments, aggression, defensiveness, name-calling, resistance, or a complete unwillingness to be open to a new or alternative perspective or information. These people may appear stupid or ignorant.
It is not that people are stupid and cannot hear or understand you. It is that they do not yet have the cognitive ability to accept this new perspective. Their brain will not let them.
Examples Of Cognitive Dissonance
Two major examples of cognitive dissonance are smoking and eating meat.
- Smoking – In the case of smoking, a person knows it causes cancer. Despite the amount of evidence to prove this, they will find an example of a lifelong smoker who lived to 102 to convince themselves otherwise.
- Eating meat – Many people in society eat meat regularly while also proclaiming to be against animal cruelty. Bringing harm to others would morally make them a bad person, so they choose to ignore that the purchase of meat pays for the way animals are treated, housed, tortured and murdered. They focus on articles about how much protein humans need and how we can only get this from animals, and that there is a natural order and food chain that places humans at the top. They will not consider if a pet cat or dog can experience emotions and love, how or why a pig or a cow would not also. They fight to find a way to justify how they can eat meat and be a good person too.
Resolving Cognitive Dissonance
Many people are unaware of their cognitive dissonance and the effect it has on themselves and others. The only way it can be addressed is to first become conscious and aware of feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, shame, regret, sadness or stress and identify the cause in yourself as cognitive dissonance. Only then can you begin to address it.
There are several ways to reduce cognitive dissonance in yourself including:
- Reject or avoid conflicting information – This requires you to devalue and discard certain information. One example of this is ignoring information, people or news sources that have a different perspective to you. While this relieves cognitive dissonance, it is a narrow approach that will keep you from discovering broader and alternative perspectives and possible truths about the world.
- Persuade and justify – Individuals may convince themselves that no conflict exists. They will seek out others who believe the same as them, convince others that new information is wrong, or condemn those who hold an alternative perspective. They do everything they can to eliminate an alternative that would negate their reality. For example, to consider that a government or the media may not be acting in your best interests and could be lying to you creates great cognitive dissonance in some members of society. It is far easier to band together and label anyone who thinks so as crazy, a conspiracy or domestic terrorist rather than consider it on merit as a possibility.
- Reconciling the beliefs – Beliefs can be reconciled by adding new beliefs, changing existing beliefs or changing existing behaviour to align with another belief. For example:
- Adding new beliefs – You may be able to allow two conflicting beliefs to co-exist. You might find a way to work that pays good money and takes you away from your family so you can save and get settled financially, AND focus on scheduling high-quality time and activities with your family AND committing to reduce your workload after a certain time or certain amount of savings.
- Changing beliefs – An individual may consider a range of new information and decide that the media is not always honest after all, the government does not always know what is best for them and that masks feel bad and stop them from breathing and might not be that good after all. In addition, some of their behaviours might have to change accordingly.
- New behaviours – A meat-eater may decide to stop eating meat band forfeit that experience because of their love and care for animals. A person who believes masks or vaccines are bad for their health may choose not to engage in these behaviours and suffer the consequences of societies condemnation for their choice.
These approaches do not necessarily permanently resolve the conflict. They can just bury it for another day. Instead, at a time and in a way that works for you, it is important to acknowledge cognitive dissonance and choose to look at these conflicts between beliefs or behaviour and explore all perspectives through intellectual, experiential and intuitive processes to find the objective truth.
When confronted by cognitive dissonance in others, or yourself, it is important to accept that you cannot change or control another person. If they are not ready, willing or open to seeing a different perspective there is nothing you can do to change that. You cannot convince or cajole someone into seeing a different way even if it has a mountain of evidence and truth to support it. This will only increase the dissonance and their feelings of anxiety, shame or guilt, which does not help anyone.
All you can do is let them know that you have a different view and if and when they are interested or ready you will be happy to share.
If someone tries to impose their view on you and you are not ready or willing to hear it, let them know politely and considerately that you may come back to them at a later time. Walk away if you have to.
Cognitive dissonance occurs in everyone to some degree. In a current world of great polarity, it is occurring more and more.
The importance is to recognise it in ourself and others and do what we can to resolve and reconcile and allow BOTH perspectives to exist, even if we do not agree, rather than fuel the fire of conflict.
We each can contribute to creating our reality and the collective reality of others. How you do it is up to you.
The choice is yours…
PS… For some individuals, the examples used in this article might create some uneasiness, stress, frustration, and let’s face it, cognitive dissonance!!! If that is the case, consider what is being triggered in you and which beliefs and behaviours are impacted and why. Acknowledge that it may be cognitive dissonance and the way forward is to consider as much information and as many perspectives as possible to find objective truth when the time is right for you!