Carol Tavris on Cognitive Dissonance

Ben Dean of Mentor Coach recently did a wonderful interview with Carol Tavris, an expert in cognitive dissonance theory. Here are my notes.

Cognitive dissonance occurs routinely in all human beings when we hold 2 conflicting ideas. This causes emotional pain and there is an automatic psychological adjustment to minimise the dissonance. Mostly this is by minimising the evidence (information) that conflicts with our own behaviour.

Dissonance is most painful when new information conflicts with our selfconcept eg a person who thinks they are ‘kind’ will have dissonance when they do something unkind. If there is poor selfworth, signs of competence also sets up dissonance.

Solution: Train people to separate new information from the assessment of the person. Learning means making mistakes. Making mistakes is not being stupid. LOOK, ACKNOWLEDGE, MOVE FORWARD.

The more effort put into a project, the more you want to justify the worth eg to a health program etc, even if info suggests it has not a beneficial outcome.

Motivational facilitation is about helping:
1. a person to articulate the 2 conflicting ideas that are dissonant;
2. Then look at the one that is more important to change.

Simon Peres, “When a friend makes a mistake the friend remains a friend, the mistake remains a mistake.” And we are our own friend.

The ability to tolerate the pain of dissonance is a master skill. Sometimes it is good to have sleepless nights to wrest with the different perspectives of a problem to find the things important to change.

Increase the tolerance for dissonance by getting into the habit of articulating the 2 ideas that cause pain.

3,000 studies of how the mind works shows it doesn’t process in a rational manner. Knowing this helps us to look carefully at how we made decision and correct for it.
How do we feel after a decision, and how do we make decision (who do we believe?), can lead us to be sceptical but also to read about different points of view and eventually come to understand the more reliable.

When we put down the burden of self-righteousness and say, “I had something to do with conflict x” and gives up the emotional energy trying to protect ourselves, then we can help the conflicted group move forward.

When you make your best choice, there will always still be dissonance. Look at it. Maybe you will be still convinced. If it is a mistake, that is okay. When the mistake becomes evident, look at it, solve it, move forward.

Random acts of kindness uses the natural effect of dissonance. In the same way that when we are unkind, we often argue that the victim deserved it. When we are kind we can also argue that the recipient deserved it. This self-justification creates a spiral of habits to be more helpful in the future. Benjamin Franklin story.

If you have been very hurtful at some time, when the recompense has been established as well as it can, the dissonance should be resolved with self-forgiveness. Sort it, move forward, forgicve yourself for the mistake.

When things are going wrong in your life, be aware of incorrect attribution for your problem. Avoid scapegoating. Develop a bigger, clearer perspective.


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