Cognitive Dissonance Theory

The Cognitive Dissonance Theory was developed by Leon Festinger in 1957. Our attitudes are something that we are not born with. We develop our attitudes beginning in childhood and on up through the years of personal experiences. We also form attitudes based on observation, such as hearing loved ones talk about issues which are important in society. Festinger believed that we tend to change our attitude about a subject if we notice a discrepancy because it causes us to feel psychological tension much like anxiety. We change our attitude about something in order to get rid of the discrepancy and the anxiety that goes along with it. People want to feel that their attitudes and behaviors are on the same page. Therefore, they become very uncomfortable when they realize they might not be. They then begin to change either the attitude or the behavior.

The three components of all attitudes are the cognitive responses, which are our beliefs, affective responses, which are our feelings, and behavioral tendencies, which are our predispositions to actions. We do not want two or more of our attitudes conflicting with each other because we all want to think that our beliefs, our feelings, and behaviors are pointing in the same direction.

One way of resolving cognitive dissonance is by trying to open your mind a little bit. Sometimes you have to try something new or experience something in order to make the right decision for you on how you choose to think and behave about something. For example, I grew up in Illinois and somehow was made to believe that southerners have no education, no money, no shoes, and so on. Then when I was sixteen I had to move to Eastern Kentucky to live with my sister who had married someone in the Army and moved here. I immediately saw that most of the kids at my school wore very nice clothes and designer shoes. Most of them drove nice cars and were every bit as educated as I was. In fact, I found that the parents of my classmates here in Kentucky seemed to spend a lot more time and money on their kids than the kids I knew up in Illinois. I had to experience this place and otherwise my attitude about the south would never have changed. The people here are so warm and friendly and I really love it here.

Another way of resolving cognitive dissonance is by researching the subject in order to make an educated decision on your attitude about something. I have battled with depression for my whole life, and I would never take any antidepressants or any other type of psychological medication. About two years ago, I nearly hit rock bottom in my struggle with depression and anxiety attacks. I broke down an did a lot of reading online about different types of medication for depression, mood disorders, and anxiety. I went to see a psychiatrist and he diagnosed me with PTSD with depression and anxiety resulting from the PTSD. He suggested that I take medication for the problems and go to therapy. I used my knowledge I had learned and requested some medication that I had learned was not addictive. It made a big change for me and I am very glad I did the research and decided to finally take action. I think in some circumstances people feel more open to changing their attitude after they know the facts about the particular subject.

Following what you believe in your heart is the best way to resolve cognitive dissonance. Conflicts will arise within your attitudes and behaviors, but if you follow what you truly believe in then your behavior and attitude about something will be in sync. Discrepancies will come up that will make you question your views and attitude on something, but you cannot make excuses and justify your behavior forever. Regardless of weather you tell yourself and others that your behavior is justified, you do know right from wrong. If it is a serious and important matter, you have to be yourself and believe what you feel is right. If you really feel like you need to justify your behavior, chances are that your behavior is not in sync with your true attitude about something. My step-sister had an abortion several years ago, and she never believed in abortion and neither did I. She justified herself constantly and made excuses constantly, but I can still tell that she feels it was the wrong thing to do. I even made some excuses for her, and tried to justify it even though I felt it was wrong, but I have to admit that while I don’t condemn her for it, I think it was a selfish and wrong way to try and correct a mistake. If an issue is important enough to you then cognitive dissonance can be resolved just by knowing yourself and what you truly believe even if there is a discrepancy between an attitude and a new piece of information. We all deal with conflicts like these, and we can’t always say, okay, there is a discrepancy, and toss our belief out the window.


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