Dissonance is motivating, in that people don’t like it, and need to change something to eliminate it. This can involve attitude and behavior change. You redouble your efforts to recycle, you search out for information that supports the choice you made or your previous actions, or simply decide what you believe or do is right and justified, no matter what others say, or you decide that other needs are more important than the dissonance you feel.
There are various psychological and communication techniques we use to resolve dissonance:
- Change the attitude. I actually sort of like the rain.
- Add consonant cognitions. Look at the good side.
I could stay in and study all day without being tempted to get out.
- Derogate (think negatively about) the other choice.
I probably would have hurt myself on the ski slopes anyway.
- Make the choices seem further apart in your own mind. Wow, watching the storms on the coast is awesome; all that cold, snow and ice are overrated anyway.
- Trivialize the cognitions. It’s just a weekend, and after all I’m not at home working.
- Suppress thoughts about it. No point crying over spilt milk.
- Communicate. Talk to others about how much fun you are having.
- Alter your behavior or attitude. Decide to leave and never do that again.
We sometimes stick with clearly dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors simply because of sunk costs: we have invested so much in them that getting out of the situation would cost more than it’s worth, perhaps.
When challenged, we often become defensive, and feel our self esteem and “face” are at risk, so we become even more attached to our decisions.
People who undergo severe hazing to join a group then justify to themselves that the group was worth joining. Hazing is often used as a form of “team” building.
We have a hard time accepting that we have wasted our time, money and effort on things that aren’t worth it, or that we have made a bad decision.
But note this: buying the “wrong” brand of paper towel is likely not to create dissonance. Voting for the “wrong” candidate or buying the “wrong” house likely will.
What are you to do? How do you deal with dissonance after it has happened? It calls for change of some sort, certainly reflection and communication.
- You might change a cognitive element, a behavior, an attitude or a belief.
- New elements might be added to one or another side of the tension.
- You might downgrade the importance of one or more elements.
- You might search for more consonant information.
- You might distort, misinterpret or misperceive information to bolster one element.