Cognitive dissonance relates to the concept of being exposed to information or having experiences that conflict with our existing base of “what we know.” The theory holds that our minds are not always flexible or rational when it comes to evaluating uncomfortable information or questioning our own beliefs.
“Dissonant cognitions” will cause us to dismiss or alter conflicting information or add justification to one side or the other—not necessarily rationally—in order to regain psychological balance. It’s an important concept to consider in terms of the way people block things out or justify things to themselves.
You can imagine how ingrained psychological structures can be when a human being is raised within a certain country, system, or reality. Growing up in the US, or any culture, for that matter, you will absorb an overwhelming number of messages about what is true, what is possible, and what is important. Many of of these messages are absorbed subconsciously and become part of the basic structure of our reality. It becomes very difficult to question the fundamentals when opposing messages only come in small doses from the “fringe.” Consider these two examples:
“Conspiracy theories” seem to be the quintessentially cognitive dissonant concepts of our culture. For many people, the idea that JFK was killed by the government or “9/11 was an inside job” threatens the entire fabric of their consciousness. These things simply cannot be true and people will bend over backwards and resort to irrationality and ridicule to avoid considering them.
Cognitive dissonance can work both ways. It is extremely difficult to maintain a vigilantly open mind. Whatever your dominant perspective or worldview happens to be, it is inevitable that you will sometimes use rationalizations in order to save the time or mental stress of dealing with conflicting information. Cognitive dissonance is actually a necessary and natural mental function, but it is also a phenomenon that we should be aware of, in ourselves and others, as it is a process that does not always serve us well in the quest for objectivity and truth."