Cognitive Dissonance Theory – What Do You Think?

When reading Audiogon forum posts I am sometimes reminded of the theory of cognitive dissonance developed by social psychologist Leon Festinger back in the 1950s. The theory, which has since become well established as a central tenet of social psychology, deals with cognition (i.e., thoughts, beliefs) and behavior. One proposition implicit in Festinger’s theory is that we don’t always behave based on what we believe; rather, what we believe may be the result of how we have already behaved.

If you are not familiar with the theory of cognitive dissonance, a Google search on “Leon Festinger” and “cognitive dissonance” may prove enlightening. Here are a couple links that do a pretty good job of briefly explaining the theory.

In the second link, I particularly like the example of cognitive dissonance taken from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.

So what do you think? Might we, as audiophiles, be at the mercy of cognitive dissonance?
Only the bravest, not strong, brave, have the courage it takes to hold two different contrary major beliefs in his mind and acknowledge both are true.
When he holds a number of such contradictions the courage is not really his.

An example is the many tens and tens of millions of Americans
who are "single issue " voters using one of two basic concepts
to explain everything and anything that ever was and ever will be.
They are not always stupid, but are almost always cowardly.
Oops, I meant one or two, not one of two.
Most of this is held by different cog. dissonance theorists.
Cognitive dissonance is intrinsic to the psychology of high end audio. Those who deny its profound role often display the behavior most intensely. The major factors are subjectivity of experience, monetary investment, search for self validation, and group dynamics.
When the map inside your head no longer corresponds to the actual territory you traverse, things can and will go awry. The only problem is not seeing yourself as the problem.

All the best,
I think it is pretty clear that we experience this desire to resolve cognitive dissonance. One sees it in science, one sees it in theology, and one sees it in everyday life as Schubert points out. It is interesting that we also experience in music a desire to resolve dissonance of a different type. But the pressure to seek resolution is similar. People also tend to prefer visual experiences that are symmetrical. Consequently, symmetry is a principle of landscape design. The desire for symmetry extends well beyond visual experiences into the would of reason. Why do certain colors seem to go together in pleasing or displeasing ways?

There are interesting questions around these desires. Are these desires cross cultural? Inherent or learned? If learned, can they be unlearned?

At the end of the day, reason is the servant of wisdom, not its master. One needs to know when to suspend our seemingly incessant desire to resolve what can't be resolved and fix what isn't really broken.

Do we behave as we believe or believe as we behave? Clearly both occur. The pricked conscience (or its absence) is evidence that there is an innate pressure to operate according to the former. Many times the later is accompanied by rationalization.

Its not hard to see the folly of others. If only it were as easy for me to see my own!
Well said, Brownsfan.
And intelligence often serves merely as a tool for a higher level of rationalization.
Nonoise, I'd say they can and USUALLY do, there are people who have learned to live with dissonance .
In my experience they are usually profoundly religious people, not that I propose that as an iron-clad rule.

Pope Francis is an example.
Djcxxx, well put - it's a battle

Experience: "I own tube equipment". (Therefore I find prefer it to solid state.)
Monetary Investment: I paid $5,000 for these solid silver speaker wires (therefore they are 10 times more transparent then $500 solid silver speaker wires)
Self Validation: "I noticed an immediate improvement" (in whatever I bought, did, changed, etc.)
Group Dynamics: Everyone on the Owners website agrees with me that this a great gear!
Schubert, yes, there are many out there who manage just fine while still holding strong dissonant views. Pope Francis is a great example and come to think of it, Jimmy Carter is one as well. He considers himself Evangelical yet never fully imposed it on this country. He believed in the separation of Church and State.

There are people at my place of work who are literally 'out there' when it comes to politics yet manage to hold things down and share a multitude of viewpoints with me. I still scratch my head over that one.

All the best,
One proposition implicit in Festinger’s theory is that we don’t always behave based on what we believe; rather, what we believe may be the result of how we have already behaved.
This proposition seems to me a chicken or egg scenario.
In my view the most common behavioural explanation behind many posts on this forum are displacement theory, transference and denial.
In laymans terms - Johnny always got told what to do when he was a little boy by his father. Therefore when we give Johnny good advice, we remind him of his father. We become the father and the repressed impulses are redirected toward the poster. Denial and self delusion become the remedy of choice and the basis for an outstanding audio system - 'the best I've heard'.

I think cognitive dissonance has been misinterpreted. it arises from a conflict between two perceptions. it is a defense mechanism.

it is a way of misrepresenting what you actually believe about an action, product or opinion.

here is an example. you buy a car, and someone tells you either the car is inferior , or you could have purchased the same car for a lower price. your response is a justification of your action to defend yourself from looking foolish in the eyes of another person.

cognitive dissonance entails making an excuse that might be socially acceptable, when you wish you had not taken the action in the first place.

I could think of an example in audio, when someone buys a solid state amplifier and the result is a degradation in the sound of his stereo system.

when someone points this out, a cognitive dissonance is created and some explanation is offered for the purchase, to justify it.

of course, with foresight, one can avoid such instances, or "mistakes", which are sometimes cited by another person, which often causes discomfort and results in a white lie.
Mrtennis ...

cognitive dissonance entails making an excuse that might be socially acceptable, when you wish you had not taken the action in the first place
I suppose anyone might create a socially acceptable justification to try to excuse stupid behavior that one subsequently realizes was stupid. That seems perfectly intuitive to me; however, it is not what Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance is about.

The theory of cognitive dissonance is completely counter-intuitive. It isn’t about making excuses to other people for actions you wish you had not taken. It’s about the mere fact of having taken an action as being the basis for the formation of a subsequent cognition.

The second example “when someone buys a solid state amplifier and the result is a degradation in the sound” is a much better example of cognitive dissonance assuming that the buyer of the amplifier actually believes his “explanation … offered for the purchase” and in no way regrets his purchase even though the sound has been degraded.
Here's the experimental example of Cognitive Dissonance that I remember from college: If you ask folks in a neighborhood to display a 3x6 foot sign in their yard to promote seat belt use, almost all of them say "No." If you ask a different sample of folks in the same neighborhood if they will sign a _petition_ regarding seat belt usage, almost all of them say "Yes." The kicker is, if you go back and ask the petition-signers if they will put the big-ass sign in their yard, a whole lot of them will now say "Yes." They don't want to behave for it and against it; that would be cognitive dissonance. Allowing the big sign allays the dissonance.
cognitive dissonance is the result of holding two conflicting perceptions. it results in a defense mechanism. "sour grapes", is another example.

it results from wanting the grapes, and realizing that the grapes are unattainable. consequently the goal of getting the grapes is devalued.

the example I gave using the purchase of a solid state amp, and being dissatisfied with it , is also a case of two conflicting desires, "I want something", "I got it and i'm not happy about". one then may defend one's ego against criticism which may be uttered by other listeners of the stereo system. such an action is another example of the outcome of holding two opposing perceptions, which I think is the basis for festinger's theory.

many people defend the ego, whenever possible. they may fool others but they don't fool themselves. hence they become defensive.