Monday’s Learning TidBit – Cognitive Dissonance

by Lisa on October 5, 2009

The weekend came and went, and where does it leave you now? Most likely sitting at your office Monday morning feeling less than enthusiastic to be doing your daily grind. To help kick start your mind and get you into the mode of thinking again, MissMentor has decided to give you an interesting tidbit of knowledge for the day.

Cognitive Dissonance.

You probably have heard of the term. Cognitive dissonance is defined as the uncomfortable feeling one has when holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. This theory came about in 1957 by social psychologist Leon Festinger.

His paper Theory of Cognitive distance states that we all hold a variety of beliefs, ideas, and thoughts. These are known as cognitions. Most times our cognitions don’t relate to one another. So claiming your love for chocolate ice cream has no relevance to your opinion of Obama’s presidency.  Occasionally though, our thoughts do conflict especially when it is tied into one of our actions. This is where the dissonance comes into play.

Festinger’s most popular example is smoking.

We are all aware of the harms of smoking. It causes cancer, it ages us, it is bad for those around us, and the list goes on. Most smokers are fully aware of this yet continue to smoke.

Our minds do not like dissonance, though, and it causes us much mental stress to deal with it. Common sense would tell us to stop smoking, right? Well that sounds easy in theory, but we all know (either from experience of witnessing it) smoking is a hard habit to kick. In general, habits and behavior are much harder to change than thoughts.  Therefore, the smoker has a couple of options to deal with this.

One way is to focus on the perceived goodness that comes from smoking.

For example, smoking helps me lose weight. Losing weight is good.

If I stop smoking, I will gain weight which is bad. Or he can compare the dangers of smoking to other risks.

People are aware that car accidents are very common, and yet they still drive everyday.

Why is smoking a cigarette so different?

One other example I’ve heard was in the relation to cigarettes taking 7 minutes off. My friend proclaimed, “The last 7 minutes of life are probably the worst anyways. Who wants to live to an incredibly old age deteriorating day by day? I’m doing myself a favor by saving myself from those terrible last moments.”

A flawed theory, no doubt, but not an uncommon thought in many smokers.

Another great example is buyer’s remorse. Oh the lies we tell our selves (and believe) so that we can spend that money on a pair of overpriced shoes!

Happy Monday all!

What are our opinions on this? In what ways have you dealt with cognitive dissonance?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

kate October 5, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Hey, hey now. Don’t be knocking those shoes. They’re not overpriced, they are asset enhancing.

I think of cognitive dissonance more like my students saying they want an 800 on the GMAT and then they don’t bother to open the books because they prefer to play. Two competing thoughts, one remarkably more difficult to execute. I dig the tidbits!



Rob Northrup October 5, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Another example, saying you want to start your own business but not making the effort required to make it happen.

People are always looking for the magic pill, the easy button…

Seize the Day,
Emergency Preparedness For the 21st Century Family


Robert Martin October 5, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Reminds me of the movie Animal House, and the guy has the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other as he is thinking what to do with the girl.

Robert Martin


Jose Escalante October 6, 2009 at 12:34 am

Rob always has great examples

Jose Escalante


Steve Chambers October 7, 2009 at 1:05 am

Smoking is always trotted out as an example. People do all sorts of things that can be labeled by some group as “bad for you” and that’s because people do not act out of logic and reason. People act out of emotions and emotions tell us to act for reasons that don;t make rational sense.

Steve Chambers
Sales Training Speaker


Darryl Pace October 10, 2009 at 10:05 am

Cognitive dissonance is something we all probably suffer from at some time or another. Good post. It made me think about the areas in my life that I need to improve so that I don’t experience this type of dissonance!

Health, Fitness for Working People — Darryl Pace


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