The Dilemma of Dissonance: Why Our Values Sometimes Conflict With Our Actions


The Dilemma of Dissonance: Why Our Values Sometimes Conflict With Our Actions


Why do we sometimes act in ways that go against our values? Or, in other words, what’s the root cause of cognitive dissonance? There are many theories on the subject, but most can be broken down into two perspectives: self-perception and discrepancy reduction. Let’s look at each one and discuss their implications.


What is Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term coined by the psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s. It occurs when an individual holds two or more conflicting cognitions at one time, which creates an uncomfortable feeling that leads to a change in behavior. The most common type of cognitive dissonance occurs when people are exposed to new information that challenges their beliefs, causing them to feel uncomfortable and sometimes create rationalizations. Cognitive dissonances can also occur when individuals do not live up to their own standards or behave inconsistently with their beliefs and values.


The Dissonance Between Individualism and Collectivism

Individualism is the belief that people are self-interested and largely in competition with one another. Collectivism is the opposite, emphasizing cooperation and a shared society. Psychologists have observed that it's not always easy to maintain these two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. When you are in a group, your behavior will often reflect what your group expects or values. But when you're alone, you're more likely to act according to individualistic values. This dissonance can lead people to feel guilty or bad about themselves because they know they should be acting differently but they can't seem to do it on their own accord.


 Psychologists have found several ways to reduce dissonance in these cases, such as subliminal priming. People can be influenced subconsciously through priming to favor either individualistic or collectivistic values in order to resolve their own conflict. This can occur by using a word such as we instead of I or vice versa, or by subtly exposing people to images that emphasize individualism (such as money) or collectivism (such as family). It's important not to overdo these suggestions, however.


The Dissonance Between Self-Enhancement and Self-Transcendence

We all know that our values are something we should strive to live by and they help shape who we are. But what happens when those values conflict with our actions? What's the right thing to do in this situation? The answer is not always clear, but it can be helpful to think through the problem and see if there is a way to live by one or both sets of values. The first step is identifying which set of values your dilemma falls under.


If you're stuck between two different moral obligations, you might need to ask yourself a few questions about each obligation. This will help you figure out which obligation has greater importance in your life and which one should take precedent over the other.


How to Resolve Value Dilemmas?

A value dilemma is a conflict between your values, which are the things that are important to you, and the behaviors or actions you take. To resolve the dilemma, first identify the values that conflict. For example, one person might have a value for being honest and another for not hurting people's feelings. If they don't want to tell their friend that their haircut looks terrible because it will hurt their feelings, they have a value dilemma. Once you've identified your conflicting values, there are three ways to resolve them: 

1) Validate both values equally by trying to honor both as much as possible in any given situation. For example, if someone has a value for honesty and another for not hurting other people's feelings, this means that they need to think about how to be both honest with their friends while also considering how what they say may affect them. . It is important to remember that this isn't always possible, and sometimes you'll need to compromise.

2) Balance the values by considering which value needs more consideration. For example, if someone has a value for being honest but also has a value for not hurting people's feelings, they should try to assume how others would feel if they were honest with them and consider how their friend would react before acting dishonestly.

3) Drop one of the values because it is not worth valuing at the expense of the other. For example, if someone has a value for honesty but a value for being liked by their friends, they should decide if it is worth sacrificing the honesty in order to be liked.

4) Drop both values because neither are worth valuing at the expense of each other. For example, if someone has a value for not hurting people's feelings but also has a value for not hurting others' feelings, they should try to figure out how hurtful their actions would be to themselves in order to determine which value is more important.

5) Override the conflicting values and prioritize one value over the other. For example, if someone prioritized keeping their feelings safe at all costs, they should override the contradictory value of not hurting others' feelings with a new high-priority value that emphasizes feeling good.


When Values Conflict, What Should We Do?

It is often said that people's values are at odds with their actions, which leads to cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the psychological discomfort one experiences when they feel like they're being forced to change a belief or behavior while they still believe it to be true. It is an unpleasant sensation, and it can cause our values to conflict with our actions. The question then becomes, What should we do when our values conflict with our actions? Here are three approaches we could try in order to deal with this dilemma:

1) Thinking about how your actions affect other people is a good place to start. For example, if someone wants to become a doctor but is also racist, they should try to change their behaviors to make their values compatible with their actions.

2) Think about how your actions affect other people and take into consideration how you want them to perceive you in the long-term

3) Look for some way to change the situation so that your values and actions are compatible.


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