Humans like consistency, and when something comes along that challenges that consistency, they freak out.
This is most clearly seem by a study conducted by Leon Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith. Participants entered the experiment with the idea that the study was on performance, little did they know what they were getting into. Placed in front of a wooden structure, participants were told to turn 48 wooden pegs a quarter turn clockwise. Once finished, they were told to repeat the process all over again. After the participants were sufficiently bored to death, they were allowed to stop.
After the experiment, each participant was approached by the experimenter. He asked that they spoke to the next participant (who was an actor working for the experiment) and tell them that the experiment was enjoyable. Some were paid $1 to lie and others $20 ( keep in mind this was the 50’s so it was more like $8 and $150 by today’s standards)
After telling their lie, participants were asked to rate how interesting they found the task, the results were very interesting. Those who were paid $20 rated the task as very boring, however those who were paid $1 actually rated the experiment as somewhat interesting! why?
We can all agree that turning wooden pegs clockwise is mind numbingly boring, the inconsistency comes from the lie. Those paid $20 felt that they were given enough money for lying. Those who were only given $1 did not feel that they were given enough money to tell such lies, therefore they themselves must be lairs. Most people don’t consider themselves to be liars, and thus this causes anxiety; to combat this, participants subconsciously convinced themselves that they were not lying, but actually enjoyed the task! This is called cognitive dissonance.
This can be seen all the time in the real world. Ask a smoker why he or she smokes. Some will tell you they are self destructive, is this true? Perhaps they know that they are hurting themselves by smoking, yet they still smoke for whatever the reason. There is an inconsistency between smoking and not wanting to hurt oneself, so they convince themselves that they are self destructive.
There are many things we hold true that are only created to diminish our cognitive dissonance.
Photo Credit: ilco