74. Attitude Adjustments

Wednesday August 5 2020

The Atlantic published an article on cognitive dissonance a couple of weeks ago that was a look into the division of those who take the pandemic as a serious threat compared to the population that dismisses the global emergency talk as hype.

Cognitive Dissonance was a concept studied by social psychologist Leon Festinger in the fifties, and is defined when an individual feels a conflict when to cognitions (or behaviors) contradict each other. One example used is when a smoker is aware of the cancer risk, so has to either stop smoking or justify the behavior (“when I smoke, I lose weight, so that’s a health benefit”).

“At its core, Festinger’s theory is about how people strive to make sense out of contradictory ideas and lead lives that are, at least in their own minds, consistent and meaningful.” 

The Atlantic, July 2020

The Atlantic article asserts that we humans are deeply unwilling to change our minds once we’ve committed to an ideal. And if any facts conflict with our preexisting convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept new information or admit to being wrong.

The authors of the Atlantic article, both are social psychologists, consider cognitive dissonance as the reason some people refuse to embrace the face mask mandates despite the evidence of reduced disease transmission. And the authors make note of how the division has become a political statement, neatly identifying conservatives and liberals.

Human nature and how we develop coping skills is a fascinating thing. Until it becomes frightening when you realize how your own health and well-being is affected by those with different viewpoints.

The authors conclude their article with this statement:

“This nasty, mysterious virus will require us all to change our minds as scientists learn more, and we may have to give up some practices and beliefs about it that we now feel sure of. The alternative will be to double down, ignore the error, and wait, as Trump is waiting, for the “miracle” of the virus disappearing.”

We’re in this thing for awhile yet. Some of us are wearing masks and social distancing while others are having huge family birthday parties in their homes.

And the frustrating thing about it is, whatever comes next will become a customized narrative to validate either side, because we’re biased by our cognitive dissonance skills.

Stand your ground and defend it at all costs, because the alternative is that not only that you’re wrong, but you’ve been so the entire time.

And really, how many of us are willing to change an allegiance after so many resources (energy, voting power, time, money, reputation) have been spent to support our position?

Right. And would you lose respect for a person who does so? Are they soft, easily manipulated? Or are they courageous in their search for education?

Just asking the question.

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