Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance

Lest I rehash an old squabble, cognitive dissonance is described as: an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously [Wikipedia], and "a mismatch or conflict between ideas, cognitive dissonance, in Leon Festinger's term" and "incongruity, a prominent theory of the evolution of laughter from Jim Holt".

Each day, I read highlights from two papers on the train: one liberal, one conservative. This time it made me laugh.

First, after walking out on a comedy show in the UK in which her act bombed, uber-liberal comedienne, Geneane Garofolo:
[IHTM] during an interview on the BBC ... said, “Mostly the media in the States is much more to the right. I mean there is almost no liberal outlet for news commentary and editorializing.”
That might be the funniest thing she's ever said.

I followed that up with a politics piece by conservative columnist Byron York who wrote:
[Washington Examiner] Although a few Republican reporters have joined GOP administrations, this is mostly a Democratic problem, given the left-leaning sympathies of most journalists.
This was almost a throwaway line, not the main thrust of the article.

Reading the two of these quotes together in the space of 5 minutes made me laugh out loud on the train. There is no way these two are on the same planet together. And yet, there they were, both on the train with me (so to speak).

Cognitive dissonance ensued. Tension mounted in a split second. There had to be a dynamic resolution to the inner conflict. So, I laughed.

I'm still laughing.

1 comment:

Kardinal said...

I find these sorts of commentaries interesting because of what they say about human beings and our psychology. Clearly the two do live in the same world, literally, so what sort of psychology explains their totally different conclusions?

I recently reposted your story about the homeschooling issue in New Hampshire on a few forums. With one exception, no one who liked homeschooling supported the ruling, and no one who disliked homeschooling disliked the ruling. NO ONE.

This continues to reinforce my belief that people tend to evaluate things based on whether they agree with the conclusions, not the principles and facts of the discussion.

The elaboration on my theory is that most people see the conclusion and work backward, even if, chronologically, they read the facts first and understood the conclusion later. Their reading of the conclusion colors their recollection of facts, use of principles relating to the facts. For instance, in this case, I believe most people who oppose the ruling saw that homeschooling "lost", for lack of a better term, and focus on the religious test and de-emphasize, in their own minds, the other tests. They see all of the positive evaluations of Amanda and dismiss, reduce, or even forget the concerns about her behavior. They accuse the judge of bias, etc etc.

I could write a similar theory from the alternative perspective. I see this over and over and over again. Liberals like most things the Democrats do. Conservatives like or excuse most things the Republicans do. And disapprove of everything their opponents do. Religions do the same. Fans of sports teams likewise.

Maybe I should reduce the name to "Loyalty Blinds".

This also explains why people have radically different reads on the bias in the press. They WANT to believe it's biased against them, and thus they remember only the evidence that supports that belief.

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