About Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a concept in psychology that refers to a condition of psychological discomfort caused by a person holding two opposed and contradictory viewpoints, with the individual's norms, values, and beliefs on one side and the facts of their existence on the other. Thus, cognitive dissonance occurs when one engages in acts that contradict one's ideas and values. This essay discusses my own cognitive dissonance, which is emphasized in great detail below and employs the perspectives and viewpoints of cognitive dissonance theory. The essay then details how my dissonance was resolved, how a different mode of reduction would have helped me, and how prior knowledge of dissonance would have changed the situation.

My Dissonance

During my school days at the Terra Nova High School in Pacifica, California, I had two friends with whom we were very close. They were not the kind of friends which my family, being religious to a fault, would have gladly entertained; they were 'spoiled and free of spirit'. During our sophomore year, Nicky and Francisco, my friends, fell into the habit of indulging in marijuana. They would smoke the drug at any chance they got, including behind the bleachers in the football field during the afternoon classes which they would skive. For me, having been brought up in strict adherence to religious dictates, I believed that mind altering substances were from the devil himself; my parents actually referred to marijuana as the "devil's cabbage". Therefore, I resisted every attempt that Nicky and Francisco made to recruit me into the indulgence in marijuana smoking, but only for a while. Thus, once when my parents travelled to Memphis, Tennessee, for a two-day visit to their friends, I found myself the mercy of my friends' persuasions and later took a puff of their joint. I was amazed at the lightness I felt and would engage in the vice frequently in the course of my high school studies (through junior and senior years).

For me, smoking of the drug offered a sense of ecstasy, a wrong sense of ecstasy as I knew that in so smoking, I was not only doing wrong to God, but to my parents as well. In my mind, it was clear that smoking marijuana is wrong; nonetheless, the act gave me great pleasure and enjoyment. Therein lays my dissonance; I was at the crossroads in regards to whether I should partake of the drug that offered me great pleasure or stick to the teachings which had been inculcated in me from my childhood days. Thus, my experience illuminates the cognitive dissonance theory as there was a clear instance of enjoyment (through the smoking of marijuana) which was in collision with beliefs and values (the smoking marijuana is both wrong and evil).

Resolution of the Dissonance

To me, after a few months of doing the drug, my beliefs and values as imparted by my parents began to wane and I almost wholly embraced the habit of smoking. Even though it took me more than a year, I was able to overcome the desire to partake, and the actual indulgence in the smoking of marijuana. One night, after about three or so hours of smoking with my friends Nicky and Francisco and another group of about six boys from the neighborhood, my mind changed about marijuana, and the highs it conferred upon me. Travis who had procured the drug for us and smoked more than all of us became so intoxicated and delusional of thought that he actually believed and felt (upon a dare by his friend Jake "the Snake") as though he could stop a vehicle moving down the street. He was knocked down so badly that he lost the function of one of his legs.

In my religiously inclined mind, the only plausible explanation for the accident that befell Travis (after having smoked the marijuana rolls) was the hand of the devil and nothing less than that. It is on that October night during my senior year in high school that I was able to realize that my parents had been right all along, and that marijuana may be a devil-sent form of enjoyment. Given the event of that night, I was able to revert to my old beliefs that marijuana is an evil thing (the devil's cabbage) which causes harm to an individual. For me, as Jarcho, Berkman & Lieberman (2010) note, this was the trigger which led to the reduction of my dissonance. It has been more than four years since I last took a puff of the drug; moreover, I do not intend to ever do so in my life. When I finally let go of my smoking habit and changed my friend circle, I was able to attain a consistency in the personal expectations of my life as inculcated by my parents and the realities of my life's existence as directed by my own thoughts and actions as Harmon-Jones & Harmon-Jones (2012) avow in relation to the reduction of dissonance of cognition.

How the Situation Would Have Changed

There exists the possibility that had I not had a wakeup call on that calm October night in the form of the accident which visited Travis, I would have resolved my cognitive dissonance in a remarkably different manner. It is highly probable that I would have reconciled the beliefs inculcated in me by my parents with the enjoyment I felt after a session of marijuana smoking. Thus, most likely, I would have concluded that my parents having not tasted the drug ever behave irrational and that marijuana was actually a good thing. Had I done so, I would have used the mode of reduction that involves the changing of my cognition as dictated by my beliefs and values to justify my stress causing behavior (the indulgence in marijuana smoking), as Cooper (2011) observes. By rationalizing my smoking of the marijuana drug through the act of discrediting my beliefs and values, I would have achieved psychological consistency between my beliefs and values as well as the realities of my existence as exemplified in the smoking of marijuana.

Different Views of Situation

Another person may hold a different view from me regarding my strict upbringing, my indulgence in marijuana smoking, and the subsequent dropping of the habit. Furthermore, it is likely that a third party viewing the situation independently may hold the position that my weakness of mind was responsible for my falling for peer pressure from my two friends and partaking of the drug. Such a view may also hold that my continued use of the drug for a whole year was but a sort of experimentation phase. It is also possible that such a view will advance that my strict upbringing which imparted to me the value of straightness (as concerns the staying away from drugs) was to be credited with my decision to quit smoking marijuana as there was a clash of peer pressure and well-grounded manners.

Prior Knowledge of Dissonance

Had I had any prior knowledge of dissonance, it is highly likely that the situation would have been different. For one, I never would have fallen for the persuasions of my friends to indulge in the smoking of marijuana. I would have stuck to my guns as well as let my beliefs and values guide the decision I make. As such, I would have continued to shun the use of marijuana as a recreational drug. It is also possible that with prior knowledge, I would have reconciled my beliefs and values with the realities of my existence and tried out smoking the drug for myself in a bid to assess whether it really was "the devil's cabbage."


The possibility that I would have dropped Francisco and Nicky also exists, if I had had prior knowledge of the concept of cognitive dissonance. Such an action would have been intended to reduce the possible clash of my expectations of and about life (as directed by my beliefs and values) and the actual realities of my existence (the pressure to indulge in marijuana use) as per positions expressed by Wicklund and Brehm (2013) in their study of the perspectives on cognitive dissonance as well as affirmed by Perlovsky (2013) in the study of cognitive dissonance.


Cooper, J. (2011). Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology, 1, 377-398.

Harmon-Jones, E. & Harmon-Jones, C. (2012). Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Handbook of Motivation Science, 71.

Jarcho, J.M., Berkman, E.T. & Lieberman, M.D. (2010). The Neural Basis of Rationalization: Cognitive Dissonance Reduction during Decision-Making. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6(4), 460-467.

Perlovsky, L. (2013). A Challenge to Human Evolution—Cognitive Dissonance. Frontiers in Psychology, 4.

Wicklund, R.A. & Brehm, J.W. (2013). Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance. Psychology Press.

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