Cognitive Dissonance Theory ― Reconciling Opposing Points of View

Reconciling Opposing Points of View ― Cognitive Dissonance Theory

What is this mental condition and how could it, or does it affect your ability to reason?

What is Cognitive Dissonance Theory?

It is a theory that explains the distress one can experience when attempting to reconcile opposing points of view.  This can cause mental and physical pain. The mind battles to reconcile differing ideas.  This conflict causes mental dysfunctions and physical pain.  It also hampers our ability to use reason and common sense.  The mind reacts to protect its “sacred ground” of beliefs regardless of their validity or accuracy.  

When someone experiences this condition, it can be very scary.  It shakes the foundation of your reality. When something simply doesn’t fit into the existing worldview, it can cause a variety of mental and physical symptoms.

Cognitive dissonance theory helps us understand how someone can remain in this state for long periods. If they don’t make the connection between their symptoms and the dilemma, it can last years.  Some people move through this quickly by immediately rejecting any opposing viewpoints.  This way, they escape the discomfort of considering ideas that conflict with their current situation.

Reconciling Opposing Points of View

Cognitive dissonance can spread through populations. This happens during times of war, famine, riots, or any major social discord. It’s your mind telling you that your belief system isn’t working for you or your society anymore. Maintaining resistance to facts that expose the fallacies of beliefs causes intense discomfort. This conflict is harmful to your health and wellness. Ignoring scientific facts and logic that contradict your beliefs has consequences. It affects your ability to apply logical reasoning in other areas of your life.

When someone encounters opposing viewpoints, they must make a choice. To reconcile the new information you must either reject the new data or change your existing worldview to align with the new information.

The Healthy Response to New Data

People in a healthy mental state can reconcile opposing points of view rather quickly and with less distress. An open-minded person will not automatically reject new data. Instead, they validate the facts. They use common sense to analyze the opposing viewpoints. By applying critical thinking, they evaluate whether to accept or reject the new data. An open-minded person will change their opinions about reality as they encounter new valid information. This is a good skill set to have in a world that is rapidly changing.   Being able to do this critical to your overall health and wellness.

An Unhealthy Response to New Data

An unhealthy worldview has common characteristics. It contains an unhealthy bias and prejudice. It is also rigid and inflexible. A person with an unhealthy and inflexible worldview will suffer from long periods of this condition. This is because the world is changing so rapidly. There is a lot of information available. So, they are constantly running into data the conflicts with their narrow worldview.

Cognitive dissonance theory explains why people reject new data. They learn to ignore any data that conflicts with their worldview.  Since they do not attempt to reconcile opposing points of view, they avoid the symptoms.  People with this strategy usually come from a highly religious background.

People with rigid religious beliefs tend to place mythology above science.  They accept the opinions of those who parrot their beliefs as if what they say is factual or valid.  This is dangerous for them and anyone in their social circle.

We see this play out when people think their freedom is infringed upon because they are asked to wear a mask during the pandemic.  They confuse public and individual safety with their inconvenience.  Yet if you ask these same people if they wear a seatbelt in their car or use the toilet instead of defecating on the sidewalk, they will say of course I wouldn’t do that.

Avoiding opposing viewpoints is a learned strategy of confusing choice with prejudice.  This enables them to cloak bias and prejudice.  But now you can see through this sham.  After all, a religious experience is not a measure of truth.

Flexible Religious Paradigms

Not all religions are inflexible.  Some do not have strict boundaries on thinking. For example, Taoism and many forms of Paganism have very few constraints if any.  With these systems, you are free to explore and develop your own path.

People with these or Atheistic backgrounds are least likely to suffer from cognitive dissonance.  They are more likely to change their minds when they confront opposing viewpoints.  It doesn’t mean they all agree on the same things.

Inflexible Religious Paradigms

Those religions that rely on mythology and superstition have a lot of problems with this mental condition.  Their members encounter facts that oppose their worldview.  This is true for the Abrahamic religions.  These are the Western organized religions of Semitic origin, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

These religions are rigid and inconsistent.  They promote negative and regressive social practices. This includes genocide, discrimination, ethnic and gender bias.  They also place constraints on logical reasoning and reject the use of science.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking is part of many cultural systems.  Organizations and even families use groupthink manipulation to indoctrinate and maintain strict beliefs.   Parents and trusted spiritual authorities pass down lifestyle, religious, political, and personal opinions.  In turn, these become deeply ingrained in the way we perceive life and conduct ourselves in it. Our life experience influences all social interactions, personal habits, and beliefs. These become our values with which we function.

People with deeply held religious views live in this stressful mental condition.  They become used to the friction and conflict.  Because of this, they are more likely to act with violence to protect their beliefs. It doesn’t matter if the new information is true. What matters is that they maintain their boundaries.  Otherwise, it literally causes headaches and other physical pain.  This is why this mental condition is called a religious headache.

Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

opposing viewpoints overcoming cognitive dissonance

When you find yourself in this situation, it forces us to choose between the ideas causing the conflict.  This can be a great force in raising our consciousness.  It enables us to shed outdated belief systems that separate us and cause conflict. Or, it causes us to reject the new idea in favor of the beliefs of the existing paradigm. In fact, people will defend their current belief system even if it is rampant with error and inconsistencies.  This is because belief systems trigger the fight, flight, or freeze reaction. It creates an underlying current of anxiety.  In this state, it becomes easy to trigger the fight, flight, or freeze reaction.

So, people with cognitive dissonance find themselves in a constant state of emotional turmoil. Living in this state makes one susceptible to groupthink manipulation and propaganda.  As a result, some unscrupulous leaders use this to maintain their control over their members.  Here’s how to fight your way to the facts.

First, take a breath.  Engage in proper self-care.  Prepare yourself emotionally and physically.

1) Enhance your critical thinking ability

The accuracy of our conclusions is based on our ability to discern the facts from the fiction.  Beliefs are preconceived points of view based on arguments.  An argument is a selling tool.  It acts as a filter to justify our beliefs.   It doesn’t matter if what we believe is accurate or true. As long as it aligns with our beliefs, we “think” we are correct.

The arguments that we use to support our beliefs are based on certain premises.  These premises persuade us to accept a conclusion.  The greater our ability to think critically, the less likely we are to be persuaded by false premises and arguments.

So, it’s vital to learn about the basic tools to increase your critical thinking abilities.  Here are some links to the basics of logical reasoning and two other companion tools, spotting logical fallacies and logical axioms.  Study and apply the principles in your own research.

2) Conduct your own research

Don’t give in and ignore the new data.  Find the courage to face the fact that what you may believe is incorrect.  Then conduct your own research.  Use sources from outside the paradigm you are researching. In some cultures, this is hard to do.  So, use the internet and get outside of cultural narrative.  You must learn to question the cultural narrative.

In Conclusion

Cognitive dissonance theory tells us that a negative emotional response is a wake-up call.  Anger and frustration are one way our mind tells us that there is conflict.  This conflict can either be a way of forcing us to make changes to align with the new truth, or it can cause us to resort to other less healthy coping strategies.

For those that are open-minded, it is an opportunity to learn and move the boundaries of their beliefs. For those who are deeply religious, it can be a scary and painful experience.

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Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia

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