Monday, April 10, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance: How It Works For You

Cognitive Dissonance: "Festinger first developed this theory in the 1950s to explain how members of a cult who were persuaded by their leader, a certain Mrs Keech, that the earth was going to be destroyed on 21st December and that they alone were going to be rescued by aliens, actually increased their commitment to the cult when this did not happen ... The dissonance of the thought of being so stupid was so great that instead they revised their beliefs to meet with obvious facts: that the aliens had, through their concern for the cult, saved the world instead."


This is a favorite sociological study of mine, since it illustrates the amazing ability of people to convince themselves. Of anything.

They wanted to be special. That's what we all want. These folks just took the complete It Only Exists Inside My Head route. Don't think the mindsets of these people were easy to maintain. To get up in the morning carrying the secret conviction that one has saved the world, without any external reinforcement, takes about all the brain power anyone has left over after breakfast.

And that's the problem, when one decides to live entirely in one's own head. It's no wonder these folks sought out others. It's the classic "I'm not the only one" rationale that leads to mob rioting, Fox News, and waiting on a hillside for Jesus.

No one waits alone on the hillside. At least, not for very long.

It's good to get actual feedback on the way one's beliefs are working, and be willing to change them when they do not.

The first few episodes of "American Idol" have become indelible reminders of what happens when one's beliefs do not match reality. These people who insist they can sing against all possible evidence to the contrary maintain their internal fiction as they storm out. It comes at a tremendous cost.

They can live in their heads, which is the only place where their dreams come true, but they are giving up the chance of actually becoming special.

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