Read about the feeling of psychological discomfort that’s produced by the combined presence of two thoughts that do not follow from one another, and how to overcome such situations.
I am sure many of you have heard the famous Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes. If not, here’s the story. A fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When it is unable to think of a way to reach them, it decides that the grapes are probably not worth eating, with the justification the grapes probably are not ripe or that they are sour (hence the common phrase ‘sour grapes’).
Every time I hear this story, I laugh at the delusional fox. However, I rarely imagine that a similar fox is inside me also. The fable is a classic illustration of what psychologists call Cognitive Dissonance.
Let’s see what the formal definition of Cognitive Dissonance says –
The feeling of psychological discomfort produced by the combined presence of two thoughts that do not follow from one another. The greater the discomfort, the greater the desire to reduce the dissonance of the two cognitive elements. Dissonance theory suggests that if individuals act in ways that contradict their beliefs, then they typically will change their beliefs to align with their actions.
This is a behavioural bias which evolution has wired into the human brain. In the ancient hunter-gatherer environment, if a man saw something vague it was important for him to get rid of the doubt (whether it was a harmless rabbit or a dangerous panther) immediately. A quick decision was essential for survival. This quality gave an evolutionary advantage to human beings.
But evolution is a slow process and it hasn’t caught up with the rapid changes in our environment. In the modern world, there are hardly any such life threatening situations, but the brain’s hard wiring hasn’t changed much in last few thousand years. So we continue to take decisions under the influence of these psychological reflexes.
One of the best examples of cognitive dissonance that you can see around is people who continue to smoke even after being aware of the harmful effects of smoking. How do they deal with this conflict between what they know and how they act?
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