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Question #92071 posted on 03/07/2019 12:10 a.m.
Q:

Dear guppy of doom,

You mentioned researching cognitive dissonance in Board Question #92007. Do you have any suggested resources? Any other thoughts on cognitive dissonance?

-procrastinator

A:

Dear 130 hours,

I first became aware of cognitive dissonance during a class on the Middle East. Our professor (Dr. Gubler, who is an amazing professor) told us a study he did in Israel. He showed Israeli Jews a news story written by a Palestinian (their mortal enemies) expressing sorrow for the Holocaust. He expected this would help humanize Palestinians and decrease conflict. But the exact opposite occurred. These Jews became even more hostile and antagonistic towards Palestinians (I believe he repeated the experiment but with Palestinians' views towards Jews and it had the same result). What happened? When these individuals were faced with information that conflicted with their beliefs (that their mortal enemy was actually nice to them), they felt discomfort, or cognitive dissonance. To resolve the dissonance, they would either have to admit they were wrong (reject a positive self-image of themselves), or double down on their beliefs and reject the new information. So in his attempt to humanize each side to the other, Dr. Gubler accidentally made the conflict worse.

Cognitive dissonance is a negative emotion we feel when new information typically contradicts our already held information and challenges deeply held beliefs, typically beliefs about ourselves. We have a desire to protect our positive self-image, or the way we view ourselves. We don't want to think we're believing or doing something wrong. So when we confront opposing information, we feel uncomfortable, upset, uneasy, stressed, and other negative emotions. Our brain really doesn't like these negative emotions, and thus it tries to quickly act to resolve it, which is often done unconsciously unless we can learn to recognize it.

Ultimately there are two ways to resolve this dissonance. The first is self or group justification. We denigrate the information ("my enemy doesn't really empathize with me, this is fake!"), glorify ourselves or our group ("even if this is true my group is absolutely right so our actions are justified!"), or play the victim ("they've been so horrible to me, I'm the true victim here!"). The second way is to engage the new information and re-assess our beliefs. As you can imagine, this is much harder to do, especially when it comes to acting as a group. It's much easier to adopt justification than to engage the new information and re-assess your beliefs.

So what exactly happened with the Israeli Jews and Palestinians? They saw new information -> they felt dissonance -> they justified their position through denigration, glorification, or victimhood -> they perceived the outgroup as aggressive, or "justified" aggressive behavior. This happens all the time in politics. You hear new information that your side is wrong, you feel uncomfortable and instantly jump into defensive mode (denigrate, glorify, victimize) instead of actually listening to the information and admitting that maybe the Republican or Democratic Party is wrong about a certain thing. This also happens with our personal beliefs about ourselves. Do you ever get mad or yell at someone, and then get mad at them for making you do that? What happened was you got mad and yelled -> your positive self-image wants you to think you don't get mad and you're a nice person so you don't yell at others -> you felt cognitive dissonance -> you justified your behavior by victimizing yourself and blaming the other person -> you got mad at the other person for "making" you mad and yell at them.

So how do you stop the cycle? Don't justify. Learn to recognize those uncomfortable feelings and label them as cognitive dissonance. Learn to sit with those uneasy feelings for a few seconds instead of jumping into defensive mode. And then, if you're able, look at the new information and really try to assess it and your beliefs. Sometimes you may need to take a small or a long break, because dealing cognitive dissonance is really hard and it takes effort to stay in it instead of just rejecting the new information. While really researching into church history I had to take month-long breaks because the cognitive dissonance was so painful. So if you grew up staunch conservative and BYU is forcing you to confront those assumed beliefs and you're feeling really uncomfortable between your childhood beliefs and this new information, give yourself a bit of a break. You don't need to decide if you're a Republican or Democrat in the next year. When you feel able, research into political issues and take political tests. But if the dissonance is really too much to bear, and especially during the times your parents are talking nonstop to you about how wonderful Trump is, shelve these issues away for another day (It took me until my senior year to openly declare I was a Democrat so you have plenty of time!). It's so much better to just shelve issues and come back to them later than give into the cognitive dissonance and just denigrate, glorify, or victimize.

So all of this came from my notes from Dr. Gubler's class (yay taking notes online and easy future access!), but here's some other interesting articles I found!

-guppy of doom