Cognitive Dissonance

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An unpleasant feeling that occurs when we hold inconsistent or conflicting ideas simultaneously, e.g. “I like smoking cigarettes”, and “but I want to live a long time and smoking damages my health”. Proposed by US psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957, this theory would suggest holding two such opposing views leads to denying our true values or deciding on irrational behaviour, such as deciding, ‘smoking is fine if I only smoke low-tar brands’.

In the world of psychotherapy, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a person’s belief clashes with new evidence perceived by the person. When confronted with facts that contradict beliefs, ideals, and values, people will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.

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