Friday, June 8, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

In the simplest explanation, cognitive dissonance is having 2 different and contradicting beliefs in your brain at the same time. Cognitive- a mental awareness, Dissonance- a clash or disharmony. Cognitive Dissonance makes people feel uncomfortable, but this feeling of discomfort is the reason why people make changes in their lives. For example, if you have a strong belief that the Book of Mormon is a literal history, but keep seeing more and more evidence that disproves it, you have cognitive dissonance. In your mind, you know that the Book of Mormon is true, but you also believe that DNA evidence is reliable. How can you reconcile the 2 contradictory beliefs?

The reason our minds feel uncomfortable is because our brain can not function with contradictory beliefs. Our minds are conditioned to reason and make sense of everything. In my experience in dealing with tough issues, the way people respond to cognitive dissonance is the most predictable of all human behavior.

How do people deal with cognitive dissonance? I will look at the 6 ways people deal with facing information that conflicts with their belief system:

1. Selective exposure- avoid information that conflicts with your view point
2.Selective retention-only remember things that reinforce your viewpoint
3.Selective perception- "that quote is taken out of context..", "what that passage of scripture really means is..." etc.
4.Attack the source of the conflicting information-'shoot the messenger', discredit the person giving you the information, "they are just an apostate group that is out to get us"
5.Rationalize- "everybody was racist back then", "he was just a product of his time", etc.
6.Change belief pattern to conform with new information- "The Book of Mormon is really a brief history of a small family that had very little, or no impact on the overall society whatsoever, that is why there is no evidence to support it"

Cognitive dissonance is what drives people to change. I think cogitive dissonance is a good thing because without it, people wouldn't change.

Skeptical Mormon


exmo said...

Ah yes, the old mental gymnastics we all went through until we finally reach a point where we can really be honest with ourselves. I think every member deep down has their doubts. It might be the race thing or polygamy or treatment of gays and/or women in the church or current church leaders.

However, once you start venturing into material that is not "approved by the brethren", and you start to understand the truth about things like church history, it is a downward spiral. At first, it is like a crack in your foundation. You desperately try to patch up this crack before another one pops up.

So you dig deeper to try to understand why things happened the way they happened and why the version the church told you was so far removed from reality. So in your desperate attempt to search for answers, you run into something else that makes it look even worse. There is another crack in the foundation.

After a while of reading both sides of the argument, you wake up one day and your entire building has collapsed into pieces. You realize just how obvious it is that the whole thing is made up. Unfortunately, you also realize that even if you think the church is good, it isn’t divinely inspired and you understand that the building you once cherished can never be rebuilt.

I am sad to say that I lost a beautiful wife to the so called church that claims it brings families together-that is unless your beliefs conflict with the church. However, I am happy to say that I am much better off now than I was ever in the church. Obviously my wife didn’t see me as anything more than a ticket into the celestial kingdom. There must not have been much to our relationship if she was willing to leave me just because I don’t share the same beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Exmo -- that is sad that you lost your wife. I think most Mormons would not divorce their husbands over this issue, though, and would try to be loving and understanding -- I didn't!
Zelph -- nice job, very good synopsis of cognitive dissonance.

paranoidfr33k said...

I'm glad you linked to this post from your Hill Cumorah post today. I've heard the term once or twice, but its very beneficial for me right now as I'm writing a lot of my thoughts down about my doubts regarding the Church.

My wife has also been very understanding, although I haven't been completely honest with her yet on how far I have gone in my disaffection... She thinks at this point that I just have questions/issues, but I'm past that now to the point that I just don't beleive it anymore.

I guess we'll see how things go.