Cognitive Dissonance

Be warned, its a day for $10 words —

With a bit of serendipity I managed to have two encounters with research on cognitive dissonance in one day. Woke up to an NPR story about partisan psychology around gas prices and ended the day with a lecture on implicit bias theory and role congruity.

The partisan psychology is fascinating and helps me understand the ever increasing polarization of US politics.  I am very familiar with the phenomena of shifting criterion (aka reconstructing credentials) in evaluation and selection activities, but somehow missed the connection to partisan politics. It is reflexively inconsistent with my beliefs about myself to think that I am biased rather than logical, therefore my political beliefs are a reflection of researched, objective analysis.

Please. I know better. I talk & teach about bias, gender norms and structural discrimination. I know that cognitive bias is automatic, learned and serves a purpose with daily mental shorts-cut that all humans use. What I forgot is that it creeps into every system, not just the ones I am raising awareness of. Tricky, tricky stuff.

The gas prices survey was such a great visual reminder that cognitive dissonance can lead to skewed views and damn the facts. It will be interesting to see the results of the research that prompted the story (that inconsistent facts are rejected because they are “painful”, but feeling positive about themselves helps people absorb new information) maybe it can help foster a new way of talking about politics.

I went to that lecture yesterday because the speaker is national scholar I admire and only see once a year at a conference. Her talk, stitched together with the NPR story in my mind, was a useful rap on the knuckles.  No one is exempt from implicit bias including (especially?) trainers. Take the online implicit bias test at this link if you have a few minutes and see what I mean. (Click demonstration, go to tests, “I wish to proceed”, and then you can choose I bias to test like Gender, Religion, Race, Weapons, Sexuality and so on.)

Complacency and smugness lurks around every corner no matter how good we feel about ourselves.