Happy Birthday, Cognitive Dissonance

“Until Leon Festinger published his 1957 book, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, the word “dissonance” was pretty much confined to music. Now it’s a standard part of the lexicon for everyone from psychobabblers to political analysts (well, maybe that’s not such a wide range).” (New York Times )

Hmm, sounds like it should be right up my alley, and in fact I find cognitive dissonance a psychological concept of crucial importance. We change our beliefs to avoid the distress of conflicting thoughts. Is it to salve our egos or to avoid agonizing over past mistakes, as the New York Times birthday appreciation poses the question? I actually think there is not much of a distinction. A sense of certainty allows us to have confidence in our minds, our ability to decipher the world and to act decisively. It is one of the foundations of effective functioning. As a mental health clinician, I see every day how devastating it is to lose confidence in the reliability of one’s own thought processes and the lengths to which people will go to avoid doing so.