Cognitive dissonance is stress or discomfort caused by simultaneously holding contradictory ideas.
Examples of cognitive dissonance
- A mother, who believes that her son is a good boy, learns that he has committed a serious crime;
- An atheist, who believes that there is no design or purpose in biological life, faces arguments and evidence that support the existence of a designer;
- A devout Muslim finds contradictions in the Qur'an.
- Anti-police leftist rioters, who want to see police departments abolished based on perceived grievances (whether real or imaginary), suddenly demand police protection for themselves after they lose fights against pro-police patriots.
Signs of cognitive dissonance in a person engaged in a discussion/argument
Below are signs of cognitive dissonance in a person engaged in a discussion/argument:
- The person is unwilling to concede obvious factual points and arguments
- The individual mischaracterizes the points/position of the other party - often in a dishonest way
- The person myopically focuses on one variable/aspect of a matter rather than looking at the whole issue. See also: Fallacy of exclusion
- The individual engages in "mind reading" and baselessly attributes bad intentions in the other party
- The person becomes angry - even when not provoked.
- Rather than focus on the matter at hand, the person engages in personal attacks. See also: Ad hominem
Overcoming cognitive dissonance in a person who has shut down rational thinking
Below are techniques to eliminate/overcome cognitive dissonance in a person you are having a discussion with:
- Build trust/rapport in the other person through displaying empathy and using humor
Responses to cognitive dissonance
People respond to the uncomfortable feelings associated with cognitive dissonance in a number of ways, including:
- Resolution: Identifying the source of the contradiction and adjusting one one or both of the contradicting beliefs to eliminate the contradiction;
- Rationalization: Inventing faulty justifications in an effort to maintain both contradictory ideas as true;
- Denial: Denying the existence of a contradiction where one exists
George Orwell famously discussed cognitive dissonance in his novel 1984, using the term doublethink. However, doublethink refers to the ability to overcome the stress or discomfort and to accept the contradictory ideas.