Why many people don’t let facts get in the way of their cherished beliefs.
Clifford N. Lazarus Ph.D.
Why do many people staunchly defend their opinions and beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence that their ideas and views are totally incorrect? One explanation is the common phenomenon of cognitive dissonance.
Cognition is simply thinking and reasoning. It is the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, reason, analysis of information, and experience. Dissonance is a musical term that means a lack of harmony among musical notes, but can also mean a tension or clash that results from disharmonious or contradictory components.
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a person’s belief clashes with new evidence introduced to that person. To reduce the psychological discomfort, the person will have to change either their mind or their behavior so that the inconsistency or contradiction is resolved, thus restoring mental balance and emotional harmony. That is, cognitive consonance.
Hence, people continually reduce their cognitive dissonance to align their beliefs with their actions, thereby maintaining psychological consistency and feeling less mental stress.
This phenomenon, first described by Leon Festinger in 1957, helps explain why so many people will vigorously defend, excuse, justify, and keep their sacred beliefs even when confronted with irrefutable proof they are wrong. Read more >>