Friday, March 30, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance: How We Understand Each Other

In my last entry on Cognitive Dissonance, one thing I didn't address was how cognitive dissonance affects our understanding of other people.

Before I even learned about cognitive dissonance, I noticed how people's behaviors affect other people's assumptions. Let's say someone is planning a ski trip and inviting friends to come with them. The mountain they are going to has free lessons for beginners. Friend A has never tried skiing and doesn't think they would be into it. Friend B has tried skiing and didn't like it. Who do you think will get more peer pressure to go on the ski trip?

In my experience: Friend B. It doesn't make sense logically - you would think that the person who hasn't tried would get more pressure to try, and that the person who has skied before would have more authority in stating that skiing isn't their thing. But I have experienced this time and time again. People always accepted the fact that camping wasn't my thing back when I hadn't tried it. Once I went on a camping trip for college orientation and learned that I really hate camping, people weren't as accepting about my not liking it. It was always, "But you went on the orientation trip! And when I said that I hated my orientation trip, people would respond with, "But you must have liked some of it. What about this part? What about that part?" The fact that I went on one camping trip has made people challenge me when I say that I don't like it. The same was true for drinking - back when I didn't drink at all, people accepted that I didn't drink. But once I tried drinking and found that I didn't like it, I got a lot more pressure to keep trying.

It's not logical, but it could be cognitive dissonance. The same way that our own behaviors affect our likes and dislikes, perhaps other people's behavior's affect the way we see them - that when someone says, "I don't like coffee" when you've seen them drink coffee to be polite, you experience cognitive dissonance because what they're saying is inconsistent with what you've seen, so your brain decides that the person must like coffee in spite of what they're telling you.

The best thing we can do is just believe our friends when they tell us something, even if our minds are telling us otherwise. Your friend wouldn't tell you that they don't want to go skiing with you if they actually did want to go.

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