How does cognitive dissonance affect learning and development?

Because people want to avoid discomfort, cognitive dissonance can have a wide range of effects. Dissonance can influence the way we act, think, and make decisions. We may adopt behaviors or adopt attitudes to help alleviate the discomfort caused by conflict. Everyone experiences cognitive dissonance to some degree, but that doesn't mean it's always easy to recognize.

But at the same time, this cognitive dissonance can be one of the best resources for you and your school to achieve real change for all students. When there are conflicts between cognitions (thoughts, beliefs, and opinions), people take steps to reduce dissonance and feelings of discomfort. Cognitive dissonance may be due to feeling compelled to do something, when learning new information, or when faced with a decision between two similar options. The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe mental distress that results from having two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes.

Changing conflicting cognition is one of the most effective ways to address dissonance, but it is also one of the most difficult, especially in the case of deeply held values and beliefs, such as religious or political inclinations. However, students may experience cognitive dissonance around a particular topic and, therefore, instead of working on the topic, they have closed and compartmentalized something that causes them discomfort. There are a number of different situations that can create conflicts that lead to cognitive dissonance. Some of the ways in which people reduce the discomfort caused by cognitive dissonance include seeking information that aligns with and supports current beliefs, reducing the importance of conflicting beliefs, and changing beliefs to reduce feelings of conflict.

Sometimes, the ways in which people resolve cognitive dissonance contribute to unhealthy behaviors or poor choices. In A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Leon Festinger (the psychologist who first described this phenomenon) offers an example of how a person can address dissonance related to health behavior by talking about people who continue to smoke, even though they know that it is harmful to their health. Cognitive dissonance is defined as the mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more conflicting beliefs, ideals, or values. A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to feel psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance can even influence how people feel and see themselves, leading to negative feelings of self-esteem and self-esteem.

Hilary Gibbons
Hilary Gibbons

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