16 November 2013

A Tale of Cognitive Dissonance

Way back in the day, when I was in college, my psychology instructor introduced a new phrase which, until yesterday evening, I never really understood. This has been a mind blowing revelation, so please follow along.

The phrase I'm sharing today is cognitive dissonance. If you're a smarty pants and already know what this means, great! For the rest of us, it is broken down as such.

cog•ni•tive  [kog-ni-tiv]
Adjective - of or pertaining to the act or process of knowing, perceiving, remembering, etc.; of or relating to cognition

dis•so•nance  [dis-uh-nuhns]
Noun - inharmonious or harsh sound; discord; cacophony

From About.com
The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. 

How does one hold two conflicting beliefs? Well, that depends on your motives at any given moment, right? This is how it came to me. Because up until last night, I don't believe I'd ever had conflicting beliefs. I'm not a republican AND a democrat. I'm not a Christian AND a Buddhist. Get it? That's why this phrase had always been difficult for me to comprehend.

I'll start with the day before. Tim had been working in Miami, so I had some time on my hands and the Yorkie had made a matted mess of her backside. I took this opportunity to comb out her lovely locks. She's a ball of fire, and in order to get her to calm down, I had to hold her steady on the kitchen counter. I know this is not the preferable place to do this, but it was convenient. Was there an epiphany at this moment? No. That came later.

So, I'm combing her hair, pulling out knots, very careful not to trigger any yips from this four pound pooch. All the while, she's excited about this nearby tomato I'd taken a slice off earlier during lunch. I'm a bit embarrassed, but I guess I should have put it away, else she wouldn't be so distracted. If she sniffed it, she would realize it wasn’t some hunk of meat. She'd probably leave it be and I could finish combing out her matts.

Okay, so I let her sniff it. How was I to know she liked tomatoes? I snatched her away, but not before she'd taken several licks from the exposed end. I made a note to throw it out because I'd rather waste nearly an entire tomato than to risk sharing that reeking saliva of hers. It would probably eat its way into the core of the fruit. I'm not being mean. This dog's tongue has been places. I'm embarrassed, again.

All of these things I'm describing to you here are all cognitive. I'm knowing, perceiving, and remembering. I'm very aware of all these things at the moment, but our processing of information changes when we're in a different environment, with different people and different motives. So, enough about the Yorkie for now.

Tim arrived home yesterday and we made a quick trip to the store to stock up on some essentials, namely beer. I decided to accompany him to the store because he'd been gone and I figured we could get caught up on things. And, just for the sake of contrast, Tim's the bargain shopper and I'm the "get in, get it, and get out" type of shopper, and on that evening I had to pee. However, I knew it could wait since we only live 15 minutes away.

So the dissonance part? He starts his bargain shopping for things I felt we could pick up another time, a time when I wasn't consciously aware of my expanding bladder.

"Oh, I know what I needed to get," he says.


I say, "Okay, let's get it and go."

He goes back two more aisles and grabs a few more items. I said he's a bargain shopper, not an efficient one. Meanwhile, my bladder is filling up.

Suddenly, he stops pushing the cart and I slam into his back. "What do you want for breakfast in the morning?" he asks.

"I don't care, BLTs."

"Good, I got bacon the other day and we have lettuce. I just need to get a loaf of bread."

At this point, I'm not even listening anymore because my bladder is so full and I'm agreeing with everything. No more items! Stop adding items to the list and let's get the hell out of here!

"Can we go now?" I plead.

"Yep, let's get out of here."

My hero! Peeing is going to feel soooo good.

We head toward the checkout and Tim says, "We have a tomato at home. I saw it on the counter."

The feeling I had at that moment is called cognitive dissonance.

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