Magenta Nation – Fakchex

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Have you ever been confronted by information that went against what you knew, or done something that you didn’t feel accurately reflected you? Did you feel a sense of discomfort or guilt for it afterwards? If so, you’re likely not the only one, and you just experienced a psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance.

Proposed by the psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957, the term cognitive dissonance refers to the discomfort experienced when a thought or action we experience does not agree with our other thoughts or actions. Ideas and actions can exist in either consonance or dissonance. Consonant concepts follow on from each other logically and can exist comfortably side by side.

Dissonance occurs when we encounter information that directly challenges a core belief we hold, or when we do something that feels contradictory to the values we believe we hold ourselves to. Maybe you felt uncomfortable about a decision you were about to make, or you felt guilty about something you had done, or you went along with doing something because you wanted to fit in with a crowd (the “fear of missing out” or “FOMO” scenario). You can find several examples of this in daily life: perhaps someone who loves animals feels uncomfortable when they think about where the meat they eat comes from.

When we experience cognitive dissonance, we tend to engage in a mental process by which that discrepancy becomes rationalized to resolve the contradiction. Experiencing too much dissonance can lead to negative consequences. The tension and discomfort it engenders can lead to higher levels of stress, and the constant discomfort without resolution may begin invoking sensations of powerlessness. People may try to resolve cognitive dissonance in different ways: they might avoid it, by shunning interaction or conversation with people that remind them of it;  they may try to delegitimize the information or source that created the dissonance with their views; or they may limit the impact of the dissonant idea by dismissing it as abnormal or rationalize it into their existing ideas. Taken too far, these coping mechanisms can prevent people from changing their behavior, potentially creating harm for themselves or others.

If done in a positive way, however, the process of restoring cognitive harmony (or consonance) can lead to moments of personal growth. When we learn that our smoking habit is bad for our health, we can assimilate that information and decide to change our behavior for the greater benefit of our wellbeing. If we discover that a politician or public figure we supported had done something immoral, or even illegal, we can reassess our decision to support that person and choose instead to give our trust to someone more deserving of it.

Given how many scenarios fit the concept of cognitive dissonance, it’s likely that many of us experience it on a relatively common basis in our lives. It’s understandable to feel uncomfortable or guilty about our thoughts and actions sometimes. But it’s what we decide to do with that dissonance that matters most. A willingness to reevaluate our own beliefs in the face of new information, or an ability to recognize our own bad behaviors and resolve to change them, helps us to not only ease our stress and anxiety, but also to change and grow as individuals to improve how we treat ourselves and potentially others too.

Thank you for reading this Fakchex article. Please share this article and join us in the fight to combat disinformation.

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Fakchex presents short, fact-based articles and videos on topics about which there is considerable disinformation. It is the only grassroots communication program that helps people personally combat disinformation. Fakchex articles are designed for sharing with people who care about these topics, but may not be aware of the facts OR may not have time to research them on their own. Together, we can combat the powerful forces of disinformation that prevent us from coming together to realistically address our problems and opportunities.

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