Monday, March 16, 2009

Understanding Cognitive Dissonance ~ Thoughts to Remember

Simply stated, cognitive dissonance occurs any time something "Does Not Compute." We feel pressure and discomfort because things do not add up. Our emotions become engaged so that these emotions conflict with our thoughts and our behavior. Or someone says something that does not make sense in context (e.g., when my former pastor who seemed to be doctrinally orthodox told me that people had horrible things happen to them when they left the church against the blessing and better judgment of the elders -- not because they made a necessarily unwise choice but primarily because they did not let the elders make their decisions for them). Biblically orthodox Protestant pastors do not make such statements unless they believe just as strongly in extra-Biblical doctrines as well. The context or the circumstances do not match whatever new thought, emotion or behavior has been introduced.

Behaviors can also throw us into cognitive dissonance. If we are asked to perform a task that does not match the context of the situation, this can temporarily suspend our critical thinking and our understanding of the environment which is disconcerting if not actually painful. Biderman points out that small and seemingly insignificant requests for behavioral compliance set up a pattern of compliance between the target and the manipulator. Over time, the requests can be made more relavent, but this also serves to sear the conscience. One becomes desensitized to the disturbance of the congnitive dissonance created by requests that don't seem to have any purpose or logical end. Hassan also adds information into mix, as information that does not correspond to a person's continuity of self; the internal agreement and consistency of thought, emotion and behavior; does induce a state of cognitive dissonance.

Even dissonance lasting only a few seconds changes a person's state of consciousness. A person can shift from a predominantly thoughtful, problem-solving state of mind wherein they make their own decisions and think logically (a Beta State):

into a much slower state wherein one becomes indiscriminate and non-critical, into a predominantly alpha state of awareness:
When in an alpha state, it becomes much more difficult to think logically, discerning exactly what is meant and whether the person wants to agree. Matters are accepted without as much discernment when the brain slows down to processes the cognitive dissonance. The alpha state is the ideal state that hypnotherapists and stage hypnotists like to place people into so as to plant suggestions and ideas into the mind of the subject. This can be a beneficial effect, such as when we are worshiping the Lord or when we are listening to the encouragement of loving encouragement from our supportive family and friends. When in the presence of a manipulator, this process can become our undoing. It is the mind and body's physiologic response to "Does Not Compute."

Lalich states this -->"Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults":
Cognitive dissonance theory recognizes that a person experiences and is motivated by a type of psychological discomfort produced by two thoughts that do not follow, or by conflicting views of reality. When there is such inconsistency and/or conflict, a person tends to experience internal tension and is motivated to reduce the uncomfortable feeling. Yet people will continue to hold their beliefs and behave accordingly even when a particular perception butts up against a different context or a different reality… The basis of this theory is that humans will tend to reduce the uncomfortable feeling caused by the dissonance by bringing their attitude in line with their behavior rather than changing their behavior…

It is about attitude and behavior, about the internal thought process of the individual faced with the dilemma of reconciling external and internal realities.
(pg. 249)
Cognitive dissonance makes us vulnerable and easier to manipulate. We need to be alert to it and aware of it when it occurs so we can avoid manipulation and exploitation. Knowing how the process works can make us more determined to choose. We might want to allow ourselves to be influenced, and this might be the best option for us, but we should be astute and discerning about the process. Covert influence relies heavily upon this type of dissonance, and we can disarm it by increasing our self-awareness.

Would I comply with this if I were under other circumstances? Am I pressured right now? Is someone forcing me to choose between a drastically limited number of options when more options may be available elsewhere? Can I go home and sleep on things before I make a decision? Am I tired and just agreeing with something to get away from the social pain? Would I necessarily agree with this statement if I was not being directly asked about it in a high-pressured situation? Is someone projecting shame or suggesting that I am not consistent with qualities that I would like them to associate with me in order to get me to think differently or act in a way they would prefer? Is the group opinion really all that important to me for me to act in the way that a manipulator would desire?

When you feel cognitive dissonance, take a step back. Clear your head. Consider your behavior. Ask yourself what you think and feel.

If you don't have the opportunity to process these ideas and feelings, there's a good chance that you are being manipulated. Know that you don't have to be. Most people can usually find a way to slow down the situation or to step back from it. Be assertive and protect yourself.

Read more HERE.