Creamed corn was enough to trigger myself into cognitive dissonance. The other day I was out grocery shopping and had to get some creamed corn. I grabbed the first can I saw and walked away, ready to purchase it. Usually when I’m presented with multiple options, I’ll go for the cheaper one. When my friend pointed out that there was another creamed corn that was significantly cheaper I refused to change my mind. Several different reasons entered my mind to rationalise why I wanted the more expensive option.
If you don’t know, cognitive dissonance is simply the mind’s attempt to reconcile two contradictory facts. For my creamed corn experience it was:
1) I like to buy cheaper foods
2) I am choosing the more expensive option
The person experiencing cognitive dissonance feels discomfort - both mental and physical, and will do everything in their power to alter their perceptions until this contradiction is solved. For me, my first thought was, “well this has an easy to open pull tab” - I have never once bought one thing over another due to its ease in opening it. The second thought was, “it’s more expensive, so it probably tastes better” - I didn’t even know creamed corn existed until 2 days prior. So what would I know about which brand tastes better?
It was at this moment that I realised I was experiencing cognitive dissonance. And you know what? I bought the damned expensive one anyway. In full recognition that what I was doing was irrational. I even said in my head “this is irrational”, as I walked away with the expensive creamed corn in hand.
The person experiencing cognitive dissonance usually does not realise they are experiencing it. Triggering cognitive dissonance in people and watching it unfold can be quite entertaining, but it doesn’t help change someone’s mind. In fact it’s specifically designed so that they don’t have to change their mind.
Cognitive dissonance makes our experience in the world easier. Instead of continually updating our interpretation of the world, our brain is able to conserve this mental energy and allow us to believe, or act upon, two contradictory ideas while maintaining our belief that we are being consistent. Even when we are clearly not.
But how do you know when someone is experiencing cognitive dissonance? There are specific tells, about how someone will act, what they’ll look like or what they’ll say, to indicate they’re experiencing cognitive dissonance.
Let me show you a few examples. If none of this has made any sense so far, I promise you this video will clear things up for you.
This one is embarrassing. But also fascinating once you know what you’re looking at.
Hopefully my commentary is enough, but here’s a quick recap of the important points.
First, he establishes his world view: “You can’t become an elected official without swearing on the bible, so a Muslim would not be able to ethically do this”. This is a compelling statement. It is reasonable to believe that a person of one religion cannot honestly swear on another’s holy text. It’s just that it’s factually wrong. One does not have to swear on the bible as Jake Tapper pointed out, but can do so on any book of their choosing. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t happen without a trigger. This is the trigger. Upon hearing this, his world view is shattered.
Watch him after he is told that what he believes isn’t true. That is his brain temporarily freezing, trying to reconcile two unreconcilable facts. When this happens to someone there’s a predictable path they will take. What we WANT from people is to admit that they’re wrong and move on. But what we usually get is either anger: “oh go f*ck yourself”. Accusations of ridiculousness: “that’s stupid, how could anyone possibly believe…” or something that has nothing to do with the point just made. Ted Crockett went with the latter of the options and blurted out nonsense. It makes no difference to what Trump did when he got sworn in. But he believes that what he’s saying makes sense and is pertinent to the conversation. That’s how cognitive dissonance works.
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Here’s another example. To give some context - Raheem doesn’t believe that people who are asymptomatic can spread COVID-19 (whether or not you agree is irrelevant to the greater point). He believes that this email shows Fauci agreeing with him. Fauci was meant to say “most transmissions occcur from someone who is symptomatic”, which therefore means some transmissions come from asymptomatic carriers. So how can Raheem read this and believe he’s seeing the opposite?
Raheem has hallucinated something that he wish were real.
Here’s part two of the cognitive dissonance. Once he has been told that he is mistaken and the email doesn’t confirm that asymptomatic people do not spread the virus. He admits he is wrong and moves on.
Oh wait, of course he doesn’t. An obvious tell for someone experiencing cognitive dissonance is that they will attack the messenger. Instead of calmly explaining his position, Raheem calls the user brainwashed. This is precisely what you expect from someone suffering from cognitive dissonance. This won’t be accurate 100% of the time, some people are just assholes and attack the messenger regardless.
Think how absurd this is. If Raheem was right and the person correcting him had misunderstood his point, he could have clarified and explained where the confusion was. But that would require him to reevaluate his position and conclude he was wrong. Instead, cognitive dissonance sets in.
Raheem is not a stupid person. He’s very successful and his views are usually quite well thought out. It would be remiss of us to think that only certain people are affected by cognitive dissonance. Believing this would make us more susceptible to it. This is not a stupid people problem. This is a human one. Although the two cases I have given are somewhat obvious, most of the times it can fly under the radar. Especially while buying creamed corn. This is not something that happens rarely, either. This happens frequently. It is not an aberration, it is the norm. It happens to all of us, all the time.
We’re human. We don’t like being wrong and this is why cognitive dissonance is such a powerful force. Cognitive dissonance is more likely to occur the louder, more public and more confident you are with your views. One way to avoid embarrassment is to give yourself an easy out. After affirming what your opinion is you can add, “but I could be wrong”. Those 5 words can be used to save yourself from the ever looming presence of cognitive dissonance.
Next time, just buy the cheaper creamed corn.