Cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant state that arises when an individual holds beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors that are at odds with one another (Aronson, 2012; Skillings & Dobbins, 1991). Cognitive dissonance causes feelings of anxiety and individuals are motivated to move themselves out of this state of dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a fairly common occurrence in people's daily lives, resulting from thoughts as simple as "I know it is dangerous to text and drive" and "I text and drive when I'm in a hurry."
People utilize many strategies to minimize their feelings of cognitive dissonance such as rationalization, denial, and minimization. For example, they might rationalize smoking by recognizing it is bad, but also noting they had a stressful week. In regard to stereotypic beliefs, individuals often experience feelings of cognitive dissonance. For example, a belief common among individuals in the United States is that our country is a meritocracy in which individuals get what they deserve based on their hard work (Crandall et al., 2001; Sears & Henry, 2003). This ingrained belief arouses dissonance when White individuals, for example, come across evidence to the contrary, showing that people of color do work hard but are still disproportionally lacking in positions of power and economic wealth in the United States. Not surprisingly, individuals utilize several strategies to minimize these feelings of dissonance and discomfort. By recognizing the feelings of discomfort and anxiety associated with cognitive dissonance, students can become more open to discussing stereotyping and prejudice.
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