If you have ever told a lie and felt uncomfortable about it because you see yourself as scrupulously honest, then you have likely experienced cognitive dissonance. It occurs when one's ideas, beliefs, or behaviors are contradictory—when a person learns new information that challenges a deeply held belief, for example, or acts in a way that seems to undercut her self-image. The theory of cognitive dissonance helps explain the lengths to which people sometimes go to account for thoughts, words, and behaviors that seem to clash. But in fact, by bringing attention to the inconsistencies in our minds, cognitive dissonance can be an opportunity for growth. Exactly how we choose to resolve the dissonance and its accompanying discomfort can be a reflection of our mental health.
What Is Cognitive Dissonance?
Dealing With Inner Conflict
Cognitive dissonance poses a challenge: How can we resolve the uncomfortable feeling that arises when our own thoughts or actions clash with each other? Some responses are more constructive than others. A person who learns that his eating or drinking habits raise his risk of disease feels the tension between his actions and the thought that he could be endangered. He might ease this feeling by discounting the health warning—or by deciding to change his behavior. Someone who discovers that a person she admires is accused of conduct she deems morally wrong could try to resolve her confusion by casting doubt on the accusation, finding excuses for the act, or, alternatively, revising her judgment of the person.