Flimsy Sanity: Lying to Yourself

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Lying to Yourself

Social psychologists studying cognitive dissonance are interested in the way we deal with two thoughts that contradict each other - and how we deal with this contradiction.

Numerous studies of cognitive dissonance have been carried out and the effect is well-established. Its beauty is that it explains so many of our everyday behaviours. Here are some examples provided by Morton Hunt in his classic work The Story of Psychology

*When trying to join a group, the harder they make the barriers to entry, the more you value your membership. To resolve the dissonance between the hoops you were forced to jump through, and the reality of what turns out to be a pretty average club, we convince ourselves the club is, in fact, fantastic.

*People will interpret the same information in radically different ways to support their own views of the world. When deciding our view on a contentious point, we conveniently forget what jars with our own theory and remember everything that fits.

*People quickly adjust their values to fit their behaviour, even when it is clearly immoral. Those stealing from their employer will claim that "Everyone does it" so they would be losing out if they didn't, or alternatively that "I'm underpaid so I deserve a little extra on the side."
How and Why We Lie to Ourselves

The club thing is really evident with the Marines who are very proud of themselves. I have NEVER met a man who has been in the marines that does not tell you that he was one within 15 minutes of meeting him, even if that part of his life ended 30 years ago. I bet that is the lure of secret clubs like the Masons and even the illegal drug industry for that matter (well the secrecy and the tax free money of course).


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