Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Cognitive Dissonance and Information Filtration: Explanation using Basic Psychological Concepts

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state characterized by mental stress that is caused by a dilemma resulting from conflicting thoughts, conflicting phenomena, or participation in activities which conflict with the beliefs and values of a person.  Thus, it involves a process of information filtering where the filtered information does conflict with the beliefs, values and norms of a person.  Thus, the affected person does perceive a degree of incompatibility between two states of cognitions, with the term cognition referring to an element of knowledge such as behavior, value, attitude, belief, and emotion (Wicklund and Brehm 77).
The theory of cognitive dissonance was developed in 1957 by the social psychologist, Leon Festinger. According to Festinger, an individual can hold more than one cognition, and if the held cognitions are incompatible with each other, then the individual experiences an aversive pressure which creates a state known as aversive motivational state, which pressures the individual to remove either of the dissonant cognitions. This is the basis of cognitive dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance aims to explain the operations of the cognitive system.  At the core of the cognitive system is the cognitive element. The cognitive element is also known as cognition; and thus the cognitive system is a complex set of interacting cognitions that do affect the behavior of an individual, as well as are affected by the behaviors of the individual (Wicklund and Brehm 75). Thus, the cognitive system is tied to the behavior of a person.  
The concept of cognitive dissonance can also be explained using basic psychological concepts. In psychology, the term drive is used to describe an internal motivational force which compels a person to pursue a set of goals that are aimed at satisfying the needs of that person. The most basic of these needs is the need for self-preservation which forces an individual to seek for ways to alleviate hunger, avert danger, preserve good health, and also reproduce (Cooper 77).  Thus, any acts, or actions, whose effects undermine the state of self-preservation, are thus bound to cause cognitive dissonance as the following example shows.  If a person smokes cigarettes, he or she knows that such an action is unhealthy as it causes adverse health effects which undermine the good health of a person, and thus weaken the self-preservation capacity of the individual. Thus, the smoker experiences two conflicting cognitions between smoking (an attitude which can be described as a cognitive element), and need to preserve good health (a belief which can be described as a cognitive element).  Both cognitive elements coexists in the person at the same time, and thus the person experiences an aversive motivational state as the act of smoking is harmful to the wellbeing and health of the smoker; and smoker is aware of this fact.  Hence, the smoker experience two dissonant cognitions, and according to the framework of cognitive dissonance, one of these cognitions must be eliminated so as the individual is at ease with himself or herself.  This can be done by either quitting smoking or by disregarding the fact that smoking causes ill-health and the individual thus continues smoking.  Therefore, it is evident that cognitive dissonance is a form of psychological tension which causes unpleasant psychological tension. Hence the process of resolving cognitive dissonance involves alleviating the unpleasant psychological tension.
Likewise, cognitive dissonance can be analyzed using basic philosophical principles. Thus, according to philosophy, the elements of cognitive dissonance can be divided into the five distinct logical units (or principles) as explained below.  The first unit is that a cognitive element defines a bit of information or knowledge.  The second logical principle is that the bit of information or knowledge is inherently true and factual. The third principle is that at least two conflict cognitive elements are present at the same time. The fourth principle is that the inherent value of one of the cognitive elements can be derived as a negation of the other cognitive element. Thus, using the example given above, the inherent value of smoking (a cognitive element) has been derived as a negation of good health (the other cognitive element). The fifth logical principle is that a truth cannot be derived by a negation of another truth. In other words, if a cognitive element represents a factual truth, then its negation is basically false. This follows from the logic that the negation of a factual truth cannot be another factual truth, as negation of truth represents falsehood, and thus the negation of a factual truth confirms acceptance of a falsehood. Therefore, cognitive dissonance cannot be a state of conflict caused by two or more incompatible truth, but a state of psychological tension caused by acceptance of a falsehood as an inherent truth, and thus creating a deceptive scenario where two competing truths are opposing each other (Braidotti 107). Thus, it can be argued that even though a person may hold two or more conflicting beliefs, a person cannot hold two conflicting cognitions as no truth can be derived by negation of another truth. Thus, what the affected person is experiencing is not cognitive dissonance but doxastic dissonance. Nonetheless, both cognitive dissonance and doxastic dissonance cause a change in behavior.
Behavior Change
In a published study entitled Reasoning about Belief Revision to Change Minds: A Challenge for Cognitive Systems, the relationships between cognitive dissonance and behavior change are explored in relation to changes in beliefs. In the study, the formation of the cognitive system is described as a cumulative process whereby a person adopts a set of beliefs which enhance his or her social engagements as well as maximize his or her chances of self-preservation. Thus, the process involves repeated revisions where the individual changes elements of his or her beliefs based on new experiences (Bridewell et al 115). Therefore, it can be deduced that the process of formation of the cognitive system is highly subjective as the individual just chooses what he or she perceives to be good and beneficial. Thus, the process of formation of the cognitive system does undermine the degree of doxastic stability that the individual had developed, as the new experiences are not analyzed based on doxastic logic, but by subjective preference to what is good in the short term. This means that an individual can accept a belief system which seems good to him or her at the moment, and then change this belief system at a later date when new experiences shows him or her the inadequacies of the belief he or she held.  This process of belief revision is thus highly dynamic in nature, but it can still be analyzed using impression management.
Impression management describes the process whereby an individual is gravitated towards accepting a new belief system by exposing him or her to only the good side of the belief system as well as the components of the belief system which he or she may deem beneficial to his or her well-being. Nonetheless, during the process of belief revision, the individual is forced to accept new attitudes which generally conflict with his or her morals and values. This situation creates cognitive dissonance. Nevertheless, this cognitive dissonance can be alleviated by good impression management which would drive the individual to accept the rival cognitive element as true and thus replace the established cognitive element with the cognitive element that negated it (Bridewell et al 117).  Thus, the process of impression management is aimed at attenuating the rational logic of the individual so as to resolve an existing state of cognitive dissonance as well as foster belief revision.
This study thus affirms the principle of cognitive consistency which states that an individual would seek and select beliefs that are consistent with the cognitive system which underpin his or her belief systems and moral universe. Thus, the process of belief revision is aimed at adopting beliefs which are constituent with the cognitive system of the individual, and are also beneficial to the overall well-being of the individual.
Dissonance at the Group Level
In 2015, Blake McKimmie published a paper entitled Cognitive Dissonance in Groups, which explored the process of cognitive dissonance in large groups of people.  Cognitive dissonance has been described above as an intra-individual phenomenon but McKimmie has shown that it is also an inter-individual phenomenon which occurs at the group level.  Social information available to the group can compel them to review their belief system with the aim of adopting beneficial beliefs and attitudes. Nonetheless, unlike individual belief revision, belief revision at the group level is driven by rational and logical analysis which attempts to resolve the group dissonance (McKimmie 210). Thus, it can be deduced that cognitive dissonance that occurs at the group level is resolved based on objective rationality unlike belief revision at the individual level which is driven by subjective assessments which makes the individual prone to mindreading and impression management.
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which can also be analyzed using philosophical principles. It involves the process of information filtration in which an individual must analyze and accept information which is consistent with his or her belief system. Nonetheless, philosophical analysis of cognitive dissonance disproves the concept of conflicting cognitions because no two cognitions can be true if the truth of either of the cognition is derived by the negation of the other cognition.  Doxastic stability is undermined by the process of formation of the cognitive system because the process is subjective in nature; and does not provide adequate leeway for objectivity and rationality. Nevertheless, the resolution of cognitive dissonance at the group involves rational decisions.
Works Cited
Braidotti, Rosi. Patterns of Dissonance: A Study of Women And Contemporary Philosophy. John
            Wiley & Sons, 2013.
Bridewell, Will, et al. "Reasoning about belief revision to change minds: a challenge for
            cognitive systems." Advances in Cognitive Systems 3 (2014): 107-122.
Cooper, Joel. Cognitive Dissonance: 50 Years of a Classic Theory. Sage, 2007.
McKimmie, Blake M. "Cognitive Dissonance in Groups." Social and Personality Psychology
            Compass 9.4 (2015): 202-212.
Wicklund, Robert A., and Jack Williams Brehm. Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance.
            Psychology Press, 2013.

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