In music, a dissonance (Latin dis-, "apart" + sonare, "to sound") — considered unstable (or temporary, transitional)as opposed to a consonance (Latin com-, "with" + sonare, "to sound") is a harmony, chord, or interval considered stable. The term cognition (Latin: cognoscere, "to know", "to conceptualize" or "to recognize") refers to a faculty for the processing of information, applying knowledge, and changing preferences. Cognition is the scientific term for "the process of thought". Usage of the term varies in different disciplines; for example in psychology and cognitive science, it usually refers to an information processing view of an individual's psychological functions. Other interpretations of the meaning of cognition link it to the development of concepts; individual minds, groups, and organizations.
Discussed frequently by Theme Zoom co-inventor Russell Wright in the context of Neuromarketing, cognitive dissonance is an internal contradiction (or multiple sets of contradictions) that creates a pattern of well-researched and predictable behaviors in an individual or group who is under its strange influence. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing them. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
If you understand no other concept in cognitive neuroscience, please seek to understand this one and eradicate its tendency from your unconscious behavior. No human is immune to this blind spot, and it is probably costing you untold amounts of time and money. It is also creating untold amounts of unhappiness. In fact this blind spot is what allows most humans to survive and function without becoming paralyzed and depressed, but there is a great cost to the effects of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. This contradiction between two beliefs creates a sort of 'pressure vacuum' that will spontaneously create a third belief in order to be filled. Generally this 'third belief' is pure confabulation. Also see existential cognitive dissonance. Please be advised that cognitive dissonance is a largely unconscious process; you are seldom consciously aware that you hold two contradictory beliefs or value systems simultaneously, utilizing each belief only when it is most socially convenient to do so.
The brain will try to resolve this uncomfortable cognitive dissonance in a myriad of ways. Often times a choice is required to reduce the internal conflict being experienced, and often that choice is irrational or confabulated. Response to internal contradictions on many levels drive most human behavior and renders human behavior surprisingly predictable and irrational, especially behaviors and choices made under stress. This is why the Theme Zoom marketing team has assigned cognitive dissonance as an indispensable reading topic because it is intrinsically related to Neuroeconomics. It is our opinion that the current field of Neuroeconomics as a discipline does not include enough behavioral dissonance research in its current form.
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.
Knowledge of the inner workings of these predictable responses to cognitive dissonance is called Dissonance theory and is often used by Neuromarketers to their own advantage.
Probably the most powerful book on this topic of cognitive dissonance is Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris. This book has been placed on the Theme Zoom required reading list for those interested in understanding Neuromarketing and Neuroeconomics, and is arguably the most mind altering book in the field of social psychology and perhaps even Behavioral economics. (Although it is uncertain if behavioral economists are paying attention to this great work).
Examples of cognitive dissonance:
A powerful cause of dissonance is an idea in conflict with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as "I am a good person" or "I made the right decision". The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one's choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would reduce (internal contradiction and conflict) dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.
This is actually a very serious form of human confabulation and is an extreme blind spot in the human neurocognitive mechanism. Insane rationalizations, when left unchecked, can lead to the mass social confirmation bias and justification of Nazi Germany, the Third Reich and the creation of concentration camps to rid the world of "inferior Jewish race." Jews are not any more inferior than any other race. Yet in the Nazi era, Hitler had a control over the group-think, and was able to maintain an ever increasing amount of Confirmation Bias as his power grew. In the hands of a skilled Neuromarketer, cognitive dissonance is extremely dangerous when misused, and ruthlessly effective because most people are unaware of this mechanism. Theme Zoom has used several CD tactics during several marketing campaigns with an astounding degree of success. All marketers use this technique to some degree, but few take their marketing and propaganda skills to the level of the Third Reich. See All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin.
An example would be the religious belief that "Armageddon and The End of the World is inevitable and therefore there is no need to take care of the earth because it is not going to be here for our children anyway".
These types of homicidal religious memes and beliefs (and there are many) are often justified by circular reasoning or circular logic (because the Bible Tells Me So). People do not believe things for the reasons they think. Their beliefs about their beliefs are incorrect, and this is one of the biggest cognitive blind spots within the human psychophysiolocial mechanism.
Human's are hardwired to remove dissonance at almost any cost. In the case of embracing Armageddon, the internal contradiction that drives a person to do so is created by the stress of learned helplessness at the overwhelming number of apparent world problems and conflicts. The stress of a dangerous world is at odds with the deep desire to keep their family and children safe, so belief in Armageddon and the Rapture (spontaneous salvation at some future date but not necessarily right NOW) is dissonant alternative but better than sustained stress and anxiety. These types of strange beliefs are coping mechanisms stemming from a natural and deep desire to keep ones family, children and loved ones safe and happiness when one feels helpless to do so.
A study of cognitive dissonance can help our society remove this cognitive blind spot from collective and individual behavior so that people can be "Happy" based on intrinsic happiness not merely exoteric (extrinsic) happy. Please see Stumbling Over Happiness by Dan Gilbert.
Understand that this is not a judgment on exoteric religious belief systems. It is to simply point out how dissonance theory would view irrational beliefs and other human coping mechanisms.
This type of dissonance relief valve has been well documented in religious cults that depend upon circular reasoning to maintain an falsifiable belief. (*Hint: It is better to start a cult based on esoteric ideas that cannot be easily falsified. This will increase the life span of your cult or religious ideology. If you would like blueprints on how to do this, please contact Russell Wright at Theme Zoom, and he will be happy to set up your cult for a hefty fee).
Leon Festinger and two associates infiltrated a group of people who believed the world was going to end on December 21, 1954. This is probably the most important work ever done on cognitive dissonance and Why People Believe Crazy Things. Please see When Prophecy Fails. The authors infiltrated a group that was expecting the imminent end of the world on a certain date. When that prediction failed, the movement did not disintegrate, but grew instead, as members vied to prove their orthodoxy by recruiting converts (see further discussion below).
Other Cases of Cognitive Dissonance:
The classical version of this idea is expressed in the Aesop fable The Fox and the Grapes, in which a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. Unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating anyway (that they are not yet ripe or that they are too sour). The dissonance of the desire for something unattainable versus the lack of fulfillment is reduced by irrationally deciding that the grapes must be flawed.
Smoking is often postulated as an example of cognitive dissonance because it is widely accepted that cigarettes can cause lung cancer, yet virtually everyone wants to live a long and healthy life. In terms of the theory, the desire to live a long life is dissonant with the activity of doing something that will most likely shorten one's life. The tension produced by these contradictory ideas can be reduced by quitting smoking, denying the evidence of lung cancer, or justifying one's smoking. For example, smokers could rationalize their behavior by concluding that only a few smokers become ill, that it only happens to very heavy smokers, or that if smoking does not kill them, something else will. While chemical addiction may operate in addition to cognitive dissonance for existing smokers, new smokers may exhibit a simpler case of the latter.
This case of dissonance could also be interpreted in terms of a threat to the self-concept. The thought, "I am increasing my risk of lung cancer" is dissonant with the self-related belief, "I am a smart, reasonable person who makes good decisions." Because it is often easier to make excuses than it is to change behavior, dissonance theory leads to the conclusion that humans are rationalizing and not always rational beings.