Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Son of a Son of Dissonance (Cognitive Dissonance III)

Silly me, I used to think dissonance was more about wanting to behave in ways that were consistent with what you decided or committed to do. While that’s in the mix, research suggests that dissonance’s force is even more strongly related to wanting the bad feeling of not being consistent to go away rather than to have the good feeling of being consistent to stay. If that sounds like a distinction without a difference, you’ll have to fight your point with ultra geeky social psychologists who tend to be really excellent researchers. Good luck with that.

To sum up, the more you have grappled with a decision—really examining the pros and cons and what you intend to do—the more you will build a strong intention to follow through on that decision, partly based on a dissonance mechanism. Further, as suggested by Rosenblatt in 1977, you’ll feel a lot more internal dissonance to follow through on a commitment in a relationship when you’ve made that commitment very publically.

Think about that, unless you’re in a big hurry to keep surfing the web. It’s an interesting idea that Rosenblatt had. Ever wondered why some type of serious, solemn, and public ceremony exists for weddings in most all cultures on the planet? The more public the ceremony, the more witnesses, the more serious, the stronger the resulting intention to follow through. The decision making up the commitment becomes a big deal. A BIG deal. That may help quite a bit when what is intended is a life-long commitment. What’s that say about a culture that is steadily dismantling ceremonial aspects of entering into commitments? I’m thinking it’s not too good.

With a clear decision made before others, the decision becomes part of you, and the rest of you will be pulled to behave in ways consistent with that decision. When you are tempted to stray from the path, a stronger and clearer original decision will produce more dissonance; dissonance is your friend because it helps you keep to what you said you’d do.

Coming full circle, decisions are important because decisions support follow-through. People are less likely to continue down a path that they have not decided on. That’s why sliding through important relationship transitions can be a pretty bad deal.

Here’s my final point for now. Decisions are most important when there is something at stake—something that requires follow-through. If there is nothing at stake or that needs sustained effort, decisions are less important and sliding into whatever happens may be just fine. Could even be fun. Since decisions take a lot more mental energy than sliding, you don’t want to be making everything into a decision. But the big things in life—especially in your love life—call out for decisions so that a sustainable commitment can be built.

What kinds of things do you want to be making decisions about in your life?

I feel Cognitive Dissonance IV coming on, and I really thought this would be the end of my dissonance. In my next post, I think I’ll make some points about the current craze for super costly weddings. I wonder if you can guess where that point will go and why.