Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the unpleasant feeling that attends holding beliefs that are partially or wholly inconsistent. For example, buyer's remorse is a kind of cognitive dissonance: "I made a good decision" is at least partly inconsistent with discovering that the other camcorder has batteries that last twice as long.

Leon Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance says that people try to reduce dissonance among their beliefs, by all sorts of means, some cognitive and some behavioral. When an attitude is inconsistent with a behavior, often people stay with the behavior and adjust the attitude by rationalizing.

An overview:

A shorter overview:

One example of CognitiveDissonance which deserves further exploration is on the page NoGoldStars. It's about why large rewards may be counterproductive, and uses CognitiveDissonance to explain this.

Just be aware that using CognitiveDissonance as a label on others is likely to be a symptom of CognitiveDissonance. ;-) --AndersBengtsson

Is it ? What are the inconsistent beliefs in such a situation, and how is applying the term as a label a form of rationalizing a dissonant belief ?

He/she who spent three days installing Linux and found it worth it ("A") conflicts with the beliefs of the one who spent three days installing NT ("B") and wants it to be worth it. By labeling "A" as someone experiencing CognitiveDissonance "B" can ignore the conflicting information from "A". Or the reverse. Or something...

Does this validate AdHominem or similar arguments? Because it seems that cognitive dissonance would make someone more or less credible based on how long it took them to install their OS.

That would support the point I was trying to make about the danger of using CognitiveDissonance as a label... I think? Maybe this could be refactored into something more clear.

CognitiveDissonance does not apply to different persons holding conflicting beliefs. The theory might be applicable in explaining, say, a Linux user's disproportionate fondness for it by the putative inconsistency between a critical appraisal of the platform's strengths and weaknesses on the one hand, and a large investment in effort on the other hand.

However, it is not usually the case that disagreeing with someone is perceived as holding conflicting beliefs. You believe that you are right, and you also believe that the other is wrong; the two beliefs are not dissonant.

I think I get it now: There is really no CognitiveDissonance in the situation, but the conflicting parties may believe that CognitiveDissonance is the real reason for the other party's opposing view.

So when we get sick of seeing ourselves fall into this pattern repeatedly, what can we do?

I wonder if the only way to rid ourselves of CognitiveDissonance is to let go of the desire to understand.

I'm not sure you can "rid yourself" of CognitiveDissonance, if it is indeed the case that it is a natural human tendency. It might be more productive to exploit our awareness of it; to structure our own "peripheral" behaviours, attitudes or beliefs so that we are naturally led to behaviours consonant with our "core" beliefs - those which, after considered reflection, we decide to label as such.

Some of the XP practices are IMHO instances of "cognitive engineering" of that kind, e.g. PairProgramming or TestFirstDesign.

Note, though, that merely being aware of CognitiveDissonance isn't enough to do cognitive engineering. I'm still a smoker, for instance, and still find myself rationalizing that behaviour. -- LaurentBossavit


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