How To Resolve Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a term used to describe the feelings that arise when someone holds contradictory beliefs. It is also known as an internal conflict that people need to solve, in order to be able to make further decisions. Inconsistent thoughts lead to disharmony and cause people a lot of tension, but if properly managed, they could also serve as a source of motivation.

Leon Festinger was the first to introduce and describe cognitive dissonance. In his book “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance” (1957), he explained that human beings have an innate drive to maintain an internal consistency of thoughts. Experiencing contradictory beliefs or ideas is stressful and uncomfortable, so usually people will try to resolve the dissonance by changing their beliefs, behavior or the emphasis on certain thoughts.

Examples of Cognitive Dissonance

  • People who are aware of health risks of smoking, but still continue to smoke. They don’t change their behavior even though they are conscious about the fact that smoking is detrimental for their own health.
  • Someone puts emphasis on environmentally friendly lifestyle and considers themselves a responsible consumer, but instead of using a reusable bag, they go to the market and each time purchase a new plastic bag for their items. This is a common cognitive dissonance between someone’ s beliefs and behavior, which are obviously contradictory.

Where Does It Come From?

Cognitive dissonance is a normal occurrence and each one of us experiences it on a regular basis. As our external world is diverse, chances are you will get into situations that trigger in you contradictory thoughts. But what exactly causes the psychological tension?

Decision Making

We can’t escape decision making no matter how hard we sometimes want it. We make decisions every day, from what to make for dinner to where we should spend the weekend. Making a decision means having to choose between two or more options and the tough part is: there are pros and cons to every option. This is where the dissonance kicks in.

People are conscious that by choosing an option, they cut off the possibility to enjoy the advantages of the other option. To avoid the tension caused by decision making, we employ a mental strategy known as spreading the alternatives. We evaluate the chosen alternative more positively and the unchosen option as being less attractive than it was before the decision was made.

Forced Compliance Behavior

When someone is forced to do something that is contradictory to their beliefs, appears a feeling of discomfort and psychological tension. Here the dissonance occurs between cognition and behavior. If a person is forced to deliver a speech on a subject that he considers barely interesting, they will experience cognitive dissonance.


We tend to appreciate the results of our work considering the amount of effort we put in it. But what if the effort we put into a task is not proportional to the results we got? Cognitive dissonance appears when we make a great effort to accomplish something and then negatively evaluate the results.

You may have experienced something similar, perhaps when you’ve tried to start a new project and put a lot of work in it and it didn’t work out. To avoid experiencing cognitive dissonance in these situations , we use effort justification. We try to convince ourselves that it wasn’t really a lot of effort or maybe that we really enjoyed putting effort into that project.

Gaining New Information

Our brains are constantly receiving new information from the environment. Sometimes the information coming from external sources is inconsistent with the information stocked in our brains, which we used to build specific beliefs. When we receive and process information that is contradictory to our thoughts, we experience cognitive dissonance.

How To Resolve Cognitive Dissonance?

Most of the time, cognitive dissonance interferes with the ability to enjoy our daily life, so managing it properly will improve one’s general well-being. In order to be able to resolve cognitive dissonance, we should, first of all, understand that it can be used as a source of motivation to bring thoughts and beliefs into a consistent relationship.

We ’re built of contradictions, all of us. It’s those opposing forces that give us strength, like an arch, each block pressing the next.

Mark Lawrence

Change your attitude, belief or behavior and you will make one element of the relation consonant with the other. When you have two contradictory thoughts, you either change one of them, or change the emphasis you put on the thought. Reevaluate your behavior and observe what cognition is inconsistent with it, so you will be able to change the one that is easier to.

Gain new information that exceeds in value the dissonant belief. Sometimes new information may help you regulate your cognitive dissonance, as it changes the content of a thought. It is important to know what kind of information you need to gain in order to empower one thought or another.

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