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Cognitive Dissonance and Conflict

Cognitive Dissonance and Conflict

Author: Julie Tietz

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the idea of cognitive dissonance and its potential role in creating and resolving conflict

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Source: Image of Scale, Public Domain,; Image of Burger, Public Domain,; Image of Bullies, Creative Commons,

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Hi I'm Julie Tietz. And welcome to Conflict Resolution, Putting the Pieces Together. Today, we're going to cover cognitive dissonance and conflict. So why don't we get started off with our key terms.

Cognition-- a general term for evaluating, integrating, interpreting, et cetera, thought or beliefs. Cognitive dissonance-- a state in which the mind holds two or more incompatible thoughts or beliefs. Cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant state that we often find ourselves in when we are faced with a situation where we have two or more contradictory beliefs. And so we're trying to do everything that we can in our mind to resolve this situation so we can come to a state of equilibrium. And we could either choose to keep our cognition, reject it, or integrate it into the scenario.

So let's use the example of, you need to lose weight. Your doctor says, for your health, you've got to shed a few pounds. And although you're trying to lose weight for your health, your doctor says no fast food. This will be really beneficial in your health goals. But you really love fast food. And so what are you going to do? This is this state of uncomfortable-- you know you shouldn't do something, but you really want it. And so you're struggling back and forth on what you're going to do. And so you come through or drive past your favorite fast food store or restaurant.

So what are some of the things that you could do in this situation? Let's take a look at that. So you could keep your beliefs by saying, no, I will not eat the fast food. I know that my doctor is right. My health is too important to me, so I'm just going to keep on driving by this fast food restaurant. I've got a hold of this.

Or we could choose to reject our belief that our health is important and we will not eat fast food. And so we say to yourself, hey, I'm going to go eat this food. I love it. I'm semi-healthy enough. I don't really need to take heed to too much of what my doctor says. The statistics surrounding fast food and health do not apply to me.

Or we could also integrate this information and say, yep, I know this fast food is bad for me. I'm going to do it anyway. It's just going to be this one time, and I will start my diet tomorrow. So we know that it's wrong, but we're going to do it anyway. And so we're trying to make up excuses for ourselves as to why we are going to break our held belief.

So in conflict, cognitive dissonance can escalate or it can also de-escalate conflict in certain situations. And we do this through keeping, rejecting, or integrating our cognitions. So why don't we look at some examples on how this would apply to a conflict scenario?

Let's use an example of bullying. You know that bullying is wrong. And so how can you justify the behavior that you're going to apply or commit in terms of bullying? You are going to bully somebody. And so how are you going to make it OK in your mind to do that?

So to do this, you must find something that makes the other person bad. Whether it's a physical attribution, or something they said, their lifestyle, you have to make something up or view something how the other person is, to justify your negative behavior. And in doing so, this can escalate conflict in making your mind OK with it. And it could possibly lead to a physical altercation with the person that you're bullying.

And again, bullying in a de-escalation of conflict situation could be you, again, know bullying is wrong. And you witnessed someone being bullied. And so you're having this dissonance within your mind on what to do in this scenario. So you have to make the situation right. And in order to make the situation right, you choose to intervene and stop the escalation of the bullying incident. And through this intervention, you could possibly prevent a physical altercation or make the bully realize that maybe they are doing something wrong, and that the bullying is something that they don't believe in as well.

So now that we've gone over cognitive dissonance and conflict, let's go over some of our key points. Cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant state that we feel in our minds. And we try to resolve this unpleasant state by keeping, rejecting, or integrating our cognitions or our specific thoughts or beliefs. And cognitive dissonance can escalate or de-escalate a conflict situation, going back, again, to our bullying example.

And it's also important to know that cognitive dissonance is not necessarily a bad thing. We all experience this in our everyday life on how to resolve this unpleasant state in our mind. It's just something that we do. And it's also important to know that with conflict, this can be viewed as a negative experience or also as a positive experience where people have the opportunity to grow. Thank you for taking the time out to view this tutorial on cognitive dissonance and conflict. I hope you gained something. And I can't wait to catch you again next time.

Terms to Know

A general term for evaluating, integrating, interpreting, etc. thoughts or beliefs.

Cognitive Dissonance

A state in which the mind holds two or more incompatible thoughts or beliefs.