Monday, July 2, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

According to Hassan, our gift of logic can deceive us into believing that we are absolutely rational, and invulnerable as a result. This naive assumption of environmental autonomy denies the strong effect of emotional and physical factors on the clarity of our logic. Likewise, the assumption of our invulnerability allows much room for vulnerability to shame-based relationships.When under pressure, we have fewer resources to help us maintain critical thought and vigilance, so we depend on stereotypes to decrease psychological stress. When presented with dilemmas that create discontinuity between and among the elements of an individual’s psychological, emotional and physical concepts of self, especially under conditions when our energies are depleted, the stress produced by the dilemma cannot be easily resolved.
What is Cognitive Dissonance?
It is the creation of two ideas or motives in conflict, and the natural response it to suspend critical thought to alleviate the psychological stress that it creates. If I tell you to get into the pool, but I insist that you won't get wet, when you try to process the dissonant ideas, your critical thinking shuts down for a moment. If I tell you something that seems to be right but is still troubling, and I don't give you adequate time to process and think about it, this creates cognitive dissonance. Ah, you have just become very easy to manipulate. If I continue to bombard you with more ideas that do not really make sense (If a tree falls in the woods, does it make any noise?), you will get even further into a critical thought numbing, altered state of consciousness. I've created a foothold into your sense of self through confusing thoughts.

What is curious about cognitive dissonance is that it is not limited to ideas. Cognitive dissonance can be induced by dissonant or conflicting thoughts, feelings or behavior -- the separate components of the self. One gives a foothold and facilitates domination of the other remaining elements. So while cognitive dissonance gives me a tremendous opportunity to get you to think what I want, it also helps me get you to do what I want you to do or feel what I want you to feel. If I can get you to respond to any one of these aspects (thoughts, feelings or behavior), I have an excellent chance of getting access to all three areas by means of only one. Any one aspect will pull the others along with it to keep you from staying in a psychologically stressed state. So I don't necessarily have to get you to think what I want you to think by throwing conflicting thoughts at you.

If I can get you to shift emotion (why a laugh can become contagious), I've increased my chances of driving home a thought that you might have otherwise resisted. The power of emotion will give me an inroad to your thoughts. It also gives me access to your behavior. If I can get you to feel something, I can probably also get you to act accordingly. In other words, if I want you to think something, and I can get you to feel something instead, I've got a foothold to create cognitive dissonance. You will likely shift your thought to accommodate your feelings. Behavior follows close behind, as the three elements of self do not and cannot operate independently for very long without a great deal of intolerable stress. Our minds will take the path of least resistance.