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Cognitive Dissonance: How It Might Affect Our Health?

Cognitive Dissonance: How It Might Affect Our Health?
When our beliefs don’t match our actions, this creates a cognitive imbalance and causes stress and discomfort

When cognitive dissonance happens in healthcare, a patient might try to justify their unhealthy behaviour using rationalization or justification

Written by Kashish Sharma |Published : March 2, 2023 5:08 PM IST

It is not necessary that our beliefs and behaviour are always in alignment. This phenomenon is called cognitive dissonance when we are caught between two conflicting ideas, beliefs, values and thoughts. It is not a medical condition but a psychological phenomenon that plays an important role in healthcare. When our beliefs don't match our actions, this creates a cognitive imbalance and causes stress and discomfort. The stronger the contradiction, the higher would be the anxiety caused by it. In these circumstances, the person might adopt another belief or do something that could bring down the dissonance.

When cognitive dissonance happens in healthcare, a patient might try to justify their unhealthy behaviour using rationalization or justification. This can lead to harmful consequences when it comes to maintaining good health. A simple example could be justifying smoking by saying things like you are highly stressed or have a lot of work pressure.

How does dissonance work in health?

A good example to understand cognitive dissonance would be COVID-19 and vaccine hesitancy. A person might understand that the virus is health-threatening but at the same time, he or she might have vaccine hesitancy. Since the person values health, not taking the vaccine might put them in a conflicting situation. If the person is very health conscious, the dissonance between their beliefs and actions will be greater, resulting in stress and discomfort. Hence, to reduce this dissonance and lower anxiety, the person might read one-sided articles on the vaccine's potential side effects and sometimes deliberately ignore or avoid the information that cites the benefits of getting vaccine doses.

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Whenever there is a cognitive dissonance, a person might do any one of the three actions, avoiding the dissonance or distracting themselves from it, discrediting the person or situation that highlighted the dissonance, or seeking some new information that might lessen the dissonance.

This becomes harmful when it comes to matters of health as the person might read biased information or try to rationalize incorrect behaviour such as smoking, drinking and literally all activities that are harmful to our well-being.

Signs of cognitive dissonance

Everybody experiences cognitive dissonance to some extent. The higher the dissonance, the more discomfort a person might experience. Here are a few signs to identify if you might be facing cognitive dissonance-

  1. Having a disturbed feeling before making an action (for instance, eating junk food when on diet)
  2. Rationalizing or justifying an action that caused discomfort (for instance, junk food was quickly available)
  3. Feelings of embarrassment or shame after doing something
  4. Experiencing guilt
  5. Doing something out of force or pressure.