Cognitive Dissonance and its Impact on the Individual – Part 1

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” – Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

Humans’ brains have the capability to take facts and interpret them as realities and occurring scenarios in the world, which is a characteristic unique only to human species and distinct from any other living organism. Ideas, thoughts, facts or any other piece of knowledge is called cognition; all humans have the ability to retain cognitions on a constant basis since we have the ability to retain and store information in our brains, which is known as memory. Once cognitions are truly accepted and known, they become beliefs in us that are guided by supporting evidence of their truth. Some examples of cognitions are that cakes are tasty and delicious; this cognition is true because we all know and have experience the tastiness of cakes’ flavors. Other cognition examples are that money is valuable, since we all know that it takes hard work to earn it, and one last example presenting that food is vital for our survival, seeing that if we do not eat we would starve and die during a specific time period.

These cognitions are widely accepted by humans as facts because they are supported by real-world scenarios and their value in society. These types of cognitions are consonant cognitions, because they represent true facts and are constant in belief throughout pretty much all of our lives. However, problems arise when any type of cognition conflicts with its truth, which is a scenario that happens quite frequently to every human being. One example of a conflicting cognition would be to know the true fact that marrying some else is beneficial but the conflict arises in the possible belief that the marriage might fail due to a diverse number of reasons. These two pieces of conflicting ideas holding the standard belief that marriage is beneficial and never fails are what is called cognitive dissonance, the process of holding two conflicting ideas based on one true fact while the other idea presents a conflict arguing that the true fact might not be entirely true and can be possibly better or worse depending on the type of belief and dissonance.

Humans may experience many cognitive dissonances on a wide number of subjects every day of our existence. They can range from simple dissonances about eating breakfast or not to eat breakfast because it is fattening, or to complex dissonances that impact your life, such as taking a new job or raising a family and focusing on the pros and cons of each. Even though our brains process thousands or probably millions of thoughts and ideas that have dissonances in a short period of time, most people out there do not take the time to really grasp and think about those thoughts and their dissonances, which is an important step in guiding ourselves to prevent the negative impact that dissonances can have on us and thereby trying to completely eliminate them. Most people try to avoid whenever a dissonance comes in their heads and thereby stay focused on the main belief, learning to accept dissonances and risking to try them out can be a challenging but doable process.

Click here to read part 2.

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