What's an Example of Cognitive Dissonance?

Medically Reviewed on 10/6/2021
what is an example of cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance describes the mental discomfort that results when we hold two beliefs or values that are incompatible with each other

Cognitive dissonance is a term that describes the mental discomfort that results when we hold two beliefs or values that are incompatible with each other. This inconsistency between what we think and how we behave can cause feelings of unease.

The cognitive process includes thinking, attitude, personal value, behavior, remembering, knowing, judging, and problem-solving. It also includes all conscious processes such as language, imagination, perception, and planning.

Experiencing cognitive dissonance can be very distressing because we prefer for our world to make sense. Hence, we frequently engage in mental acrobatics in response to cognitive dissonance to make things make sense again.

7 examples of cognitive dissonance in everyday life

1. Regular exercise

We promote the importance of regular exercise. We value our health, try to be conscious about the foods we eat, and know how important it is to get enough sleep at night.

However, we skip exercise and sit at a desk all day, forget to commit ourselves to eating nutritious food and getting adequate sleep and later feel guilty. This is an example of cognitive dissonance that manifests as guilt.

2. Smoking and alcohol consumption

We know that smoking is bad for our health and understand all the adverse effects of tobacco on our body and people around us. We may attempt to quit smoking for a while, but the urge of smoking increases as we become dependent on nicotine and end up smoking anyway.

The same happens with alcohol; knowing the bad effects on the body, we tend to quit alcohol but may consume it for fun.

3. Productivity at work

Doing our job right and having good productivity at work is a must, but we may distract ourselves by browsing the internet or catching up on TV during work hours. Although we get our work done, we know that we could have done even more. We feel guilty about our behavior and worry that we may get caught, but we still tend to continue doing it out of boredom.

4. Impulse buying

We may be impulsive buyers and justify our purchases by saying that we need it in order to feel good about it. Even if we find the product to be defective or does not meet our expectations, we may fight that conflict within ourselves to convince ourselves that the purchase was necessary.

5. Being honest

We feel that we are honest people, but we may lie occasionally to protect ourselves from situations that may embarrass us (i.e., being late to work or avoiding something we do not want to do such as going to a party). Later, we feel conflicted, thinking we should have been honest; still, we do not tell the truth.

6. Eating meat

We consider ourselves animal lovers and do not like the thought of killing animals, but we continue to eat meat. This condition is called the meat paradox.

7. Peer pressure

When we see a close friend stealing something and we strongly believe that stealing is unethical, we hesitate to rat them out because we fear that we may lose the friendship. This causes cognitive dissonance between being faithful to our buddy and doing what we think is right. 

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How to deal with cognitive dissonance

Everyone experiences cognitive dissonance at some point in their life. Sometimes, it just takes a change in point of view or developing new thought patterns to resolve the inconsistency. We can:

  • Change our behavior by acknowledging the difference between doing the right thing and what we are actually doing.
  • Change our surroundings or environment, particularly our social environment.
  • Process information in an unbiased way and limiting exposure to information that can make us feel more conflicted.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/6/2021
References
Cognitive Dissonance: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/cognitive-dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance Theory: http://www.cios.org/encyclopedia/persuasion/Dcognitive_dissonance_1theory.htm

How Cognitive Dissonance Relates to Relationships: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mating-game/201612/how-cognitive-dissonance-relates-relationships