A last weekend event inspired me to pick up and write about this topic. It was a discussion about eating vegetarian-vegan. Meat-eating people started to explain how plant based eating is not that much healthy and how meat-eating is so beneficial. I was sitting there and recognized how their self-justifications were so strong necessary (it was not) and how their cognitive dissonancy with passive aggression created an argument.
What does exactly self-justification mean?
People generally are motivated to justify their own actions, thoughts, ideologies and emotions, trying to convince others about what he/she has done or did is logical and rational. Like in the example above. Even tough someone knows (proved by science) that eating too much meat and saturated fat (also not eating vegetables) is unhealthy he must justify his own behaviour of believes. It can be done by several ways. To have two incompatible contents of consciousness cause cognitive dissonancy.
It is a kind of tense condition, which appears all the time when the person has two contents of consciousness (thought, attitude, view or opinion) but incompatible with each other psychologically. Differently if we consider each of them by itself then an opposite of one follows from another. Since cognitive dissonancy is an uncomfortable feeling people are motivated to decrease it. To keep on two conflicting views means is absurd so those two contents of consciousness or at least one of them must be changed like preferably compatible, consonance or like insert new contents of consciousness which will bridge over the gap between the original contents. Most of the people think that own believes and attitudes must be consistent with their behaviour so when they act contrary to their previous and existent attitudes, they feel motivated to explain and/or justify own behaviour.
How can cognitive dissonancy be released?
Using the example above, there is one person who eats a lot of meat, fried food without eating any vegetables. Once this person is reading a medical study about eating too much meat, fried food and not eating vegetables causes cardio and cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer and obesity. This person will experience dissonancy. The knowledge that he eats on a very unhealthy way is not compatible with that knowledge this way of eating causes for instance cancer. The most radical way to release this dissonancy would be to change the way of eating (but we all know, to make a change in our life, especially major a change, is so difficult) because after that change those two knowledges become compatible with each other. Imagine that, this person will try to change his way of eating but does not succeed. So what else can he do to release the dissonancy? Certainly he is going to do something with the other knowledge which is eating too much meat causes cancer. Like he tries to doubt facts about the relationship between eating too much meat and cancer. He makes himself believe that the experimental proofs are not convincible or he can mention someone who eats on the same way but without any health problems therefore if that person has no any disease he will not have either. Eventually to decrease the absurd characteristic of his behaviour he can identify himself with new contents of consciousness which are more compatible with eating unhealthy. So he might attach more important meaning to eating unhealthy. Like eating so much meat without vegetable is healthy and important and part of his personality. Like “I might not live that long but I enjoy it.” These kind of behaviours decrease dissonancy because they decrease the absurd nature of it. This person justifies his behaviour cognitive thus decreased the danger or exaggerated the importance of his action. Ultimately he succeeded to interiorize an attitude or change an existing one.
What kind of self-justifications can you recognize in your life? How do they influence your life or your self-control? Are you an open-minded person or chained to own core believes?
To be continued….
Source: Aronson, E.: The Social Animal