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Soothing Those Vexing Psychic Splinters

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A woman is relaxing at home on the veranda with her husband when she suddenly says, "I love you." 

After a moment he asks, "Is that you or the wine talking?" 

She replies, "It's me ... talking to the wine."  

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Cognitive dissonance is mental discomfort caused by discordant thoughts or perceptions.  It can arise from the clash of beliefs with knowledge, of preference with science, of desire with law, of expectation with reality--the grist of conflict is infinite.  Cognitive dissonance is a thorn in the psyche.  Its presence causes pain in the guise of guilt, embarrassment, frustration, shame, or anger.  Its discomfort is also a prompt.  To relieve its sting, one or both of the conflicting perceptions must change. 

Above, the man voices his skepticism and in one smooth redirect of meaning his wife regains the high ground (no pun intended). 

(Image by jdial)
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As we progress through life we change along with our surroundings, and more often than not this change brings conflict. 

A woman refuses to dye her hair, citing the damage of the chemicals and the departure from 'natural' that dyed hair compels.  Then she encounters henna, which while conditioning hair endows it with an auburn sheen.  "Henna is natural", she tells herself.  "It is a 'good' chemical that conditions hair.  It doesn't really dye but instead 'uncovers' the red highlights in my hair."  Thus she settles to her satisfaction the conflict.  

To take the discord out of cognitive dissonance is natural and necessary.  It relieves our minds.  

Are we always honest when we seek to salve our cognitive dissonance? 

Despite scientific consensus of its unhealthful aspects, a man continues to smoke cigarettes.  He has heard the evidence but discounts it because of personal history.  He used to get chest colds, one after the other, until in his 20s he started smoking.  Now, in his 40s, he insists that the smoke he draws into his lungs not only dries up the phlegm but kills the germs that once assailed him.  Far from threatening his health, he is protecting it!  (I did not conjure this example.) 

Recognizing the discomfiture of cognitive dissonance takes effort, and undertaking to resolve it even more so.  Do we continually deal with contradictions in our belief systems, or do we sometimes peacefully coexist with what to others seem blithering discrepancies? 

It is always much easier to perceive these discrepancies in others.    

A man who wants hand-carved wooden stanchions for his mantel hires for ten dollars an hour Mexican men who, um, probably lack green cards, and is delighted with the result of their labors.  Yet this same man vehemently disparages illegal immigration and supports strong measures to combat it. 

How can this man hold such strikingly conflicting opinions? 

Maybe he applies different rules of logic.  The laborers are available, their work is excellent, and certainly they can use the money (magnitudes lower than what a union-qualified carpenter would charge).  As for the border, patrol it! 

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How can these disparities occupy one mind?   

Maybe he literally cannot see the inconsistency.   Maybe he builds walls between discrepant opinions and neatly separates them, and so sees only constancy in each little enclave.  Just as in dealing with discrepancies this would take effort, but few people, I think, would be aware of constructing psychic fences.   Such efforts would tend to remain safely subliminal.   

As to cognitive dissonance, therefore, we can recognize and work with it--really what that means is changing our mind, with all that the phrase implies--or we can quarantine it, applying different rules to each chamber.  

One last example. 

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Dr. Dial is a psychologist and medical illustrator who for well over a decade has worked as a freelance medical and science writer and editor. She is an editor for OpEdNews, having contributed a number of articles about hydraulic fracturing, (more...)

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