You may have noticed that some people make statements that are not consistent with their behaviour. It is also quite possible that you have found yourself in an embarrassing situation where you have had to reshape your thinking. Don’t worry, you are not weak-minded, this reflects a cognitive bias called cognitive dissonance or mental ambivalence. You will find in this article all the information you need to understand and apprehend this dissonance!

  • But first, what is cognitive dissonance?

It is a phenomenon put forward by the psychosociologist Leo Festinger in the 1950s. Cognitive dissonance illustrates the contradiction between certain thoughts and our actions, leading to psychological discomfort. Its opposite is positive consonance. However, as you know, the body is well made, so is our mind, so in order to make us “feel less guilty”, our unconscious will create a kind of unconscious strategy in order to reduce this conflict.

An experiment conducted by Leon Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith highlights this disharmonious feeling and the need for human beings to reduce it. This study demonstrated that cognitive dissonance leads (in addition to psychological discomfort) to a search for approval and a state of comparison.

  • Dissonance in society

The meat paradox is a well-known case of cognitive dissonance. It is about liking to eat meat but on the other hand hating the fact that an animal is made to suffer in order to be able to eat (moreover, since a few years, the French buy their meat less and less at the butcher’s, which makes the phenomenon even more paradoxical). There are many such cases, for example, a smoker who likes to smoke (or at least, who does not try to quit) but who can say out loud that this habit is harmful to health and can cause cancer.

Cognitive dissonance is also present in Stanley Milgram’s famous (and cruel) experiment of the 1960s (an experiment that sought to find out how far submission to authority over someone else could go). Indeed, when the participants became aware of the seriousness of their actions, some justified themselves by explaining that they went all the way because they suspected that it was all fake. Cognitive dissonance would, according to this study, be sensitive to conformity.

“The believer must have the social support of other believers.” Leon Festinger

  • How do we get rid of cognitive dissonance?

Because every person is confronted with this phenomenon on a fairly regular basis, here are some relevant tips to limit its occurrence:

  1. Have self-confidence: it is important to give weight to our arguments and convictions. It is also imperative to conceive that someone can act differently and that this should not impact your way of thinking or your behavior in a specific situation. You must have enough confidence in yourself not to let yourself be influenced in some way.
  2. Ask yourself the right questions: Weighing the pros and cons of each action that seems uncomfortable to you, whether written or spoken, allows you to clarify your ideas, your deepest convictions and, what really is in agreement with yourself or not. It is only when we have a blurred vision, that doubt can settle in us.
  3. Living in harmony: Living in harmony is undoubtedly the key to coordinating our actions with our thoughts. I invite you to read Dina’s article on this subject right here!