Do you ever find yourself having a little battle in your mind over the smallest or biggest decisions? For example, when you are out shopping and you know you shouldn't be buying 'those pair of shoes' but you can't convince yourself to let them go? What you are experiencing is known as 'cognitive dissonance'.
Social psychologists have highlighted that humans like to have consistency between their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. When these are out of balance, we are motivated to reduce the inconsistency. A Psychologist named Leon Festinger (1957) proposed cognitive dissonance theory. Cognitive dissonance occurs when our beliefs and attitudes are inconsistent with our behaviour, i.e. we do something that contradicts with what we believe in.
For example, a smoker may be constantly informed about the negative effects of smoking, yet they continue to smoke. This would create mental tension (cognitive dissonance) for the smoker, and they would be motivated to reduce this mental tension by modifying their attitudes to fit their perception of their behaviour.
This can be done by three different ways:
1. Changing behaviour: the individual may stop smoking.
2. Using rationalisations: “smoking isn’t that dangerous, the media just exaggerate it”.
3. Adding a third cognition: “I’ll quit smoking at the end of this year”.
However, an individual may experience post-decisional dissonance, where they may feel they have made the wrong decision. This can be avoided by selective exposure to subsequent information. For example, a person who has quit smoking recently feels they should have continued smoking (for various reasons), they may indulge in information that elaborated the positive aspects of quitting, such as the beneficial impact on health, reduced chances of getting lung cancer, absence of the smell of smoke etc.
So hopefully that will help explain why we often have a little battle in our heads when making a decision!
Lots of Social Psychology love,