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Can We Live With a Cognitive Dissonance?

You know what is right, but you cannot exercise it and have to just go with the flow. Have you ever experienced such a situation? I believe most of us have! The problem with most democracies is exactly this. In a democracy, majority wins! But unfortunately, that majority needn’t always be right. All we can do is helplessly savour the false majority.

The same can be applied to a workplace. At the workplace, boss is always right! (Well!Not necessarily.) The clichéd lex non scripta notion of worshipping the boss and nodding a yes to whatever he/she says, might just not sync with our thoughts at all times. There will arrive a moment when your brain wants to break the shackles and get rid of the cognitive dissonance-either adapt to the unwritten law and suppress your inner voice or let your inner voice become the outer voice, no matter what the consequences.

The Cognitive Dissonance Theory: Cognitive or psychological dissonance deals with the conflict of thoughts. We humans can be at harmony only when we can stick to one choice. Conflicting choices would never let us be!

According to the human psychological theory, two conflicting choices can create a lot of unrest and discomfort in us. Our mind is only ready to accept either choice a or a choice b at one time. But, the trouble would arise when we try to fuse these two choices-a+b.

This situation of a+b can leave one so perplexed that we arrive no where. In simple words, duality is not supposed to exist. This is true in our mind as well as the society. Let us look at a very simple example.

Most of us in this society are heterosexual. So, we are used to a notion of singularity of getting attracted to the opposite sex. For a second, think of a hermaphrodite’s status. Although, there has been a considerable change in  our attitude towards this gender, deep down, our subconscious is still not prepared to agree with the idea of both the male and female privates in one body.

The Four Paradigms: The theory of cognitive dissonance is founded on four paradigms. These paradigms deal with-

  • the disbelief in a notion
  • complying with that notion
  • acting as per that notion
  • consequences of acting upon that notion

Let us study these four paradigms.

Belief Disconfirmation: This paradigm demonstrates the basic disbelief in a situation or information that is at hand as opposed to one’s values and beliefs. In this situation, there are only two choices-either let go of your beliefs and adapt to the situation or convince others to change by rejecting the information.

The very best example for this is the Conflict between the Orthodox Church and Galileo where Galileo stuck to his beliefs as opposed to the existing Roman times.

Free Choice: When a person is offered two choices a and b, he/she may choose say a over b. But, there still might be a few features in b that would still leave one inclined towards it. In order to eliminate such inclinations, one would choose to completely ignore one choice (in our case, b). In order to move forward, the decision maker would have to make only one clear choice.

The story of the fox and the sour grapes best demonstrates this paradigm.

Induced Compliance: This paradigm deals with forcing a decision on to a group of people. When two groups are offered a choice to comply with a decision and the ones not complying are warned about a penalty, then the chances are that most of the people would choose to comply even if it is against their belief.

The only reasonable justification one can give at such a time is the facing of the penalty.

Effort Justification: This paradigm involves the conflict between a desirable result and a non-desirable approach. The cognitive dissonance would arise in choosing the approach which would eventually lead to the desired result.

The notion behind this paradigm is- the more unpleasant the approach, the more pleasant is the result.

A person cannot live with a cognitive dissonance. He would ultimately have to make a choice whether he likes it or not. The choice would depend upon the situation or on the consequences of that act.

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