Cognitive dissonance

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After someone has performed dissonant behavior, they may find external consonant elements. A snake oil salesman may find a justification for promoting falsehoods (e.g. large personal gain), but may otherwise need to change his views about the falsehoods themselves.

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals tend to become psychologically uncomfortable and they are motivated to attempt to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoiding situations and information which are likely to increase it.


  • If a given activity fails and it causes the death of a follower, it is because the rest of the group had insufficient faith or that it was done too late. Should the extraterrestrial beings not descend at the appointed time, then it may also be explained as due to their being frightened by the non-believers. Thus all plots and prophecies become possible — the capacity to reduce cognitive dissonance is the cement of the cult when it confronts reality, and this is why the layman is helpless before the nonsense that is spread by these speeches.
    • Jean-Marie Abgrall (1999). Soul Snatchers: The Mechanics of Cults. Algora Publishing. p. 84. ISBN 978-1892941046. 
  • By turning over all their possessions, members were making an irreversible commitment to the cult. Once such a commitment is made, people are unlikely to abandon positive attitudes toward the group (Festinger, Riecken, & Schachter, 1982). After expending so much effort, questioning commitment would create cognitive dissonance (Osherow, 1988). It is inconsistent to prove devotion to a belief by donating all of your possessions and then to abandon those beliefs. In other words, to a large extent, cult members persuade themselves.
    • Kenneth S. Bordens, Irwin A. Horowitz (2001). Social Psychology. Lawrence Erlbaum. p. 223. ISBN 0805835202. 
  • The Court finds, based upon the evidence introduced at trial, that Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights were introduced into the market by Philip Morris with the intent to provide smokers who were concerned about their health with a product that could reduce the cognitive dissonance associated with smoking and thereby allow them to continue to smoke cigarettes.
    • Byron, J. Judgement: Price v. Philip Morris, Inc. (2003). Circuit Court of Illinois, Madison County. Sharon Price and Michael Fruth, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. Philip Morris Incorporated, Defendant. No. 00-L-112. March 21, 2003.
  • Most people are not liars. They can't tolerate too much cognitive dissonance. I don't want to deny that there are outright liars, just brazen propagandists. You can find them in journalism and in the academic professions as well. But I don't think that's the norm. The norm is obedience, adoption of uncritical attitudes, taking the easy path of self-deception.
  • He accepts scientific findings, on the same grounds we do, unless those findings challenge or refute his existing beliefs – at which point he labels them faith-based, and rejects them. Yet while claiming he won’t believe things on faith, the entire justification for his closed-minded certainty about the existence of god is predicated on faith…faith that his perception of the experience he attributes to a god are actually reliable. This is not only hypocritical, it’s a particularly nefarious bit of self-deception that results in some of the most painful examples of cognitive dissonance that I’ve ever seen. In any other area, Ray seems to grasp that independent confirmation is a grand tool for increasing the accuracy of our perceptions of reality, but on the subject of the biggest questions – his own experience not only needs no independent verification, it trumps all information to the contrary.
    • Matt Dillahunty (March 28, 2011), Ask and ye shall receive, Ray… , The Atheist Experience. (Quote about Ray Comfort.)
  • In the state of ultimate commitment, a true believer feels better for having raised and or given money to the cause. It also aids in overcoming cognitive dissonance (the cause "must be" worthwhile to have attracted these funds). All kinds of rationales are given and accepted for the displayed wealth of the leaders, but it is fascinating to see the blind acceptance being replaced by questioning and scorn as the hypocrisies and double standards begin to make themselves felt.
    • Marc Galanter (1989). Cults and New Religious Movements: A Report of the American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.. p. 102. ISBN 0890422125. 
  • As a low-level experience of cognitive dissonance, how does one maintain faith in an organization when some of the most basic claims are contradicted by evidence and ordinary experience?
    • James R. Lewis (editor) (2009). "Researching Scientology: Perceptions, Premises, Promises, and Problematics, by Douglas E. Cowan". Scientology. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 56. ISBN 0195331494. 
  • Much of the research literature has reintroduced classic cognitive dissonance theory to provide theoretical justification for a sequence of behavior change–belief change. The focus has been upon maintenance of conversion within groups when prophecy appears to fail.
    • Bernard Spilka (2003). The Psychology of Religion. The Guilford Press. p. 356. ISBN 1572309016. 
  • Despite the best efforts of Stallman and other hackers to remind people that the word "free" in free software stood for freedom and not price, the message still wasn't getting through. Most business executives, upon hearing the term for the first time, interpreted the word as synonymous with "zero cost," tuning out any follow up messages in short order. Until hackers found a way to get past this cognitive dissonance, the free software movement faced an uphill climb, even after Netscape.
    • Sam Williams. "Open Source". Free as in Freedom: Chapter 11; excerpted from: Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software. O'Reilly and Associates (2002).

Quotes in literature[edit]

  • Somewhere between the primordial soup and the dirty cell phone pic, our minds invented a sneaky way to course-correct for our mistakes and disappointments. Leon Festinger called it cognitive dissonance. Worst part is it works, if only for a while.
    • In Plain Sight. Episode: "Reservations, I've Got a Few" [5.03]. USA Network.
  • Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two conflicting ideas simultaneously.
    • Loading Screen. Spec Ops: The Line. (2012). Developed by Yager Development and published by 2K Games.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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