Cognitive Dissonance and Creativity
“Smoking Kills.” “Smoking Causes Cancer.” Most of us who have seen a pack of cigarettes have seen these words written on it in large, conspicuous letters. What if you are a regular smoker, but also believe all the scientific research related to the harmful effects of smoking? Each time you light a cigarette, you might experience an unpleasant feeling of being torn between your addiction to cigarettes and your belief that you are indeed causing irrevocable damage to your health. You may be experiencing what is known in social psychology as cognitive dissonance.
The term cognitive dissonance was coined by American social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1956. Cognitive dissonance may be defined as the state of having inconsistent or conflicting thoughts, beliefs, attitudes or behaviors, which, in turn, produce a feeling of discomfort within the individual. According to the definition in his 1957 book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance:
… two (cognitive) elements are in a dissonant relation if … the obverse of one element would follow from the other. To state it a bit more formally, x and y are dissonant if not-x follows from y.
Cognitive dissonance may thus be understood as a discrepancy or incongruence between two beliefs — which Festinger calls Cognitive Elements — or between belief and behavior where an individual may believe one thing but behave in contradiction to that belief. This contradiction, in turn, leads to discomfort within the psychological framework of the individual. For instance, if a person believes that excessive alcohol consumption may be harmful to health, but still continues to drink heavily, this discrepancy or dissonance between belief and behavior would inevitably cause them to experience psychological discomfort. Festinger writes:
The presence of dissonance gives rise to pressures to reduce or eliminate the dissonance. The strength of the pressures to reduce the dissonance is a function of the magnitude of the dissonance.
According to Festinger, dissonance may be reduced in the following three ways.
1. Changing a Behavioral Cognitive Element
An individual may attempt a change in behavior in order to get rid of the dissonance and achieve consonance. For instance, an individual who is aware of the harmful effects of alcohol abuse and still resorts to heavy drinking may achieve consonance by limiting or giving up alcohol.