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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
2011 > Cognitive Dissonance (Books and Ideas #43)

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Ginger Campbell (GingerCampbell) | 248 comments Mod
Tomorrow I will be posting a new episode of Books and Ideas. It is an interview with Carol Tavrisco-author of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Ginger Campbell (GingerCampbell) | 248 comments Mod
Here are the links for Dr. Tavris's interview:

Show notes with references and episode transcript


Wilson (CuriousMind) | 9 comments I look forward to seeing this in my BSP feed!

Ginger Campbell (GingerCampbell) | 248 comments Mod
Wilson wrote: "I look forward to seeing this in my BSP feed!"

Click here if you can't wait.

Roger Morris (roger_morris) | 34 comments "Cognitive dissonance"

(noun Psychology)

"Anxiety and existential discomfort that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs."

Examples of cognitive dissonance might include:

1. The overwhelming evidence from physics and cosmology that the universe had a beginning and arose apparently uncaused and out of nothing, when logic tells us that every effect has a cause and that "out of nothing, nothing comes".

2. The fact that we seem to be living on a "just right" planet, in a "just right" part of a "just right" solar system, in a "just right" part of "just right" galaxy in a mindless, pitiless, totally random cold, aggressively inhospitable universe - when we know that all of this has just occurred randomly and without any forethought or planning.

3. That life on earth has all the appearances of intricate design when we know that it has all arisen randomly and by complete accident through the processes of chance and necessity.

4. That against all odds, sentient life and consciousness seems to have arisen at least on this planet by completely random and undirected processes and yet the hard problem of consciousness seems to be the hardest nut to crack - and reproduce - for our society awash in science and technology.

5. That despite the intense love that we feel for our partner, our family, our pets and other special things, the sensation of love is "nothing but" pre-determined electrochemical exchanges in our accidentally complex neurological systems, and that these intense and seemingly transcendent emotions are totally worthless and pointless side effects of our evolution and have absolutely no transcendent meaning or value at all outside our limited sphere.

Have a nice day.

Ginger Campbell (GingerCampbell) | 248 comments Mod
This interview is now available in the Brain Science Podcast feed.

Henry | 7 comments Ginger. Your interview with Dr. Tavris was interesting. At the end you asked her is whether the "social psychology" is a good field to enter. She said yes. She is probably right. Neuro-scientists, need explanation and research that social psychologist can provide. In regard to the Clinical psychologists, once Neuro-scientists understand how the brain works and how to control, we will not need clinical psychologist.

message 8: by Bill (last edited Nov 19, 2011 09:56AM) (new)

Bill Graf | 16 comments Another very interesting episode. Thanks, Ginger!

Our sense of self is a key emotional construct, and when logic suggests a failure of this self, guess who wins? (Not logic.)

In the sense used in the podcast, isn't cognitive dissonance a case of two executives dueling: emotion or "gut feelings" versus the "rational" logic/language executive? In other words, limbic system versus pre-frontal cortex? What does neuroscience tell us about the pathways? What other kinds of dissonance or mental incongruence exist? When we like how something looks but hate how it sounds, what does our brain do when we encounter it?

message 9: by Mitchell (last edited Nov 18, 2011 09:56PM) (new)

Mitchell | 19 comments Isn't cognitive dissonance a case of two executives dueling: emotion or "gut feelings" versus the "rational" logic/language executive?

Of course it can be, but there can be many more causes of dissonance between many other brain modules. Ubiquitous advertising unconsciously influences us by creating a false dissonance or 'need.' Such appeals may involve the PFC or not, but even if the PFC is engaged, we may still be unaware of the struggle going on. It's certainly not a simple dichotomy.

Consider an example of dissonance intentionally created at the local science museum in which a working drinking fountain was created out of a toilet. The arc of water comes from a spigot on top of the tank and falls into the bowl. The conflict was palpable to watch. In this case I would say this is definitely a battle between emotion and the rational.

message 10: by Bill (last edited Nov 19, 2011 10:17AM) (new)

Bill Graf | 16 comments Dissonance confronts us with discomfort that forces us to deny logic. But let me flip the focus – the best decisions are made when all faculties (visual, auditory, kinesthetic …) are brought to bear, and the two executives are in accord (emotion and logic).  This is a state of consonance or congruency, and it is a state that enables action.  The use of all available chunks in harmony, employing one or more faculty, produces a highly enjoyable, productive state, sometimes referred to as ‘flow’ [Csikszentmihalyi, 1991].  In “flow,” all resources are congruent and fully engaged in a demanding activity where all requisite skills have been acquired; emotion (limbic system) is committed in a positive but detached way, with logic (PFC) observing and orchestrating.

Congruency or consonance can be compared to a talented orchestra in tune, playing under the direction of the conductor.  What emerges from the coordinated effort and sound is a new creation – the music of the symphony.  In contrast, dissonance or incongruence is like the period when each musician is tuning their instrument and warming up, without regard to the other players.  The result is cacophony and din! 

message 11: by Mitchell (last edited Nov 21, 2011 08:46PM) (new)

Mitchell | 19 comments Bill wrote: "In “flow,” all resources are congruent and fully engaged in a demanding activity where all requisite skills have been acquired; emotion (limbic system) is committed in a positive but detached way, with logic (PFC) observing and orchestrating."

According to Csikszentmihalyi (1975), "Flow denotes the wholistic (sic) sensation present when we act with total involvement...It is the state in which action follows upon action according to an internal logic which seems to need no conscious intervention on our part." (Emphasis mine) He also says, "Certain states of rapture which are usually labelled 'religious' share the characteristics of flow with play and creativity. These include almost any account of collective ritual; of the practice of Zen, Yoga, and other forms of meditation; or of practically any other form of religious experience." If logic and the PFC are involved, it would not be in the characteristic, rational way we believe. In fact, it is the absence of noisy, distracting consciousness that enables transcendent flow to occur.

Mitchell | 19 comments And just to belabor the point a bit more, BSP episode 76 about choking with Sian Beilock complements this discussion about flow and dissonance perfectly. Choking in the sense of performing poorly under pressure is essentially the opposite of flow. Dr. Beilock's analysis, though, supports the interfering influence of consciousness just like Csikszentmihalyi pointed out. From the podcast transcript:
One thing that we’ve shown is that these highly-skilled performers are really susceptible to poor performance, because one thing that happens in these stressful situations is that people become conscious of what they’re doing; they start trying to control every step of their performance, in a way that actually disrupts it...The reason is that you don’t need to exert explicit control over every step of your movement. When you do, you slow down how your limbs are coordinated together, and you disrupt what you’re doing. And we think that one thing that happens in these stressful situations, especially, for example, in the athletic domain, is that people start paying too much attention—they exert too much of their explicit attention to what they’re doing; which actually disrupts their performance.
Thinking gets in the way of flow and can cause choking. Reasoning is detrimental.

Later in the podcast Dr. Beilock says that meditation practice helps people perform better in stressful situations and prevents choking. Meditation is a technique that quiets consciousness—the logical, rational mind. " us a greater ability to let go of information—to not perseverate on it," she says. It's in the unconscious where our best work is done. More often than not, consciousness is a hindrance, not a help.

message 13: by Bill (last edited Nov 23, 2011 01:34PM) (new)

Bill Graf | 16 comments Sorry -- my terminology seems to have created a muddle. I think we are in agreement.

I am using the terms 'logical executive' and 'PFC' without the problematic term 'conscious.' Obviously the person in 'Flow' is not asleep, but the person functions without deliberate self-awareness. Self-awareness requires a partitioning of mental resources, and so disrupts 'Flow.' Within Flow, the PFC is active and helps to direct and sustain attention -- focused and concentrated awareness -- on the all-consuming task.

Writers enter Flow states. Would you say they are unconscious, or simply in a state of suspended self-awareness?

Mitchell | 19 comments Bill wrote: "I am using the terms 'logical executive' and 'PFC' without the problematic terms 'conscious.' Obviously the person in 'Flow' is not asleep,..."

Ah yes, we must go back to first principles. So what is consciousness or logical executive or even self-awareness, for that matter? "Consciousness is a hybrid, or better, a mongrel concept," Ned Block says. It means many things to many people. Even among the consciousness researchers—Block, Baumeister, Edelman, Koch and the late Crick, etc—there seems to be more unknowns than knowns. Human consciousness invokes capacities such as self-awareness, reasoning, thinking, attention, working memory, volition and self-control. Pick your poison. Admittedly, it's a tough term to use, but it's bandied as the over-arching concept for what makes humans cognitively unique, deservedly or not. Csikszentmihalyi, Beilock, and many others reference 'conscious' aspects of cognition, so we must fend with it.

That said, I think this discussion is really about the importance of so-called logical or rational mental capability. Bill, from your posts, I'm guessing you view human reasoning favorably and perhaps feel that rationality holds keys to humanity's future, but does the research support this? The writings of Sheena Iyengar (Art of Choosing), Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational), Barry Schwartz (Paradox of Choice), Philip Johnson-Laird, Tversky and Kahneman and many others suggest that there is, at best, a very limited logic engine in the brain. It's overall contribution to cognition is minimal. If you know of research that contradicts this perspective, please, let's have a look.

Bill Graf | 16 comments Getting back to topic: resources in conflict -- dissonance; resources in harmony -- Flow. Awareness of the defensive mechanisms to suppress dissonance is important, and can help inform more effective strategies of communication. Gotta read Tavris' book!

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