The Pain of Cognitive Dissonance


What a pain in the neck is asking a question and getting a dozen conflicting answers! Why is it so difficult to get a straight answer? All you want is a straight answer that you can put into an effective plan of action. It seems like all the advice you get is contradicting and confusing. That mental stress and discomfort is caused by cognitive dissonance and it happens when you have to balance two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. You like peace of mind, balance, and as psychologists call it you want ‘internal consistency’. However, the pain of cognitive dissonance is necessary as growing pains.

Cognitive dissonance is an important catalytic for learning. Learning is not about transmitting knowledge like giving away a box of chocolates. Learning is the process of making meaning through consciously balancing previous knowledge with the new information. It requires reflection and intentionality. Humans are not machines in which an algorithm is inserted and automatically executed without cognitive processing. When conflicting ideas emerge these are sorted out and considered based on reliability, credibility, and delivery. In some cases, when information doesn’t serve to balance dissonance it is just discarded.

You love unwelcome advice, don’t you? How about uninformed advice or critique? People love to give uninformed advice. They tell you how to do something and how to do it right without examining what you are doing and how you are doing it. Your brain generally rejects the information. When you seek advice or critique you are ready to receive and consider the information. This is why instructional design considers (or at least should) of great importance to perform a needs analysis before suggesting a learning solution. When you go to see a doctor you expect a check up before a prescription. It is unreasonable for a mechanic to tell you how much repairs are going to cost before they assess the damages.

Information is consciously or unconsciously delivered to you in a constant basis. When you are consciously seeking information, no matter how willing you are to receive it, cognitive dissonance must occur. The mental stress should be short when information is considered in a timely manner. Psychology suggests self-perception theory as an alternative to cognitive dissonance. Self-perception theory is explained simply a way to see yourself as if you were an outside observer. Is the new information conflicting with your values, ideas, and beliefs?  Consider advice and where it comes from. Remember the famous saying, “Is not what you say but how you say it”? Cognitively it matters too. It helps to sort out information. Consider your goals. What needs to change to get there? Is the new information helping you develop a plan of action? Straight answers won’t help if you really want to learn.

2 Replies to “The Pain of Cognitive Dissonance”

  1. hi, where do you get all this information from? Its obviously not your own information, because you do not articulate the literature well. You also delete some of my communication to you. Actually all my responses. Thank you

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