10 Tips to Handle Cognitive Dissonance in Social Media
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10 Tips to Handle Cognitive Dissonance in Social Media

By Mainak Biswas March 26, 2013 - 12,490 views

Our abilities to think, understand, process what is understood, making decisions and then reflecting on our thoughts entail cognitive processes. Our cognition is hampered when we are constantly exposed to information we think we should pay attention to. What results is a state of continuous partial attention, which reduces our performance and efficiency. Most importantly, creativity ceases to exist and we lose our abilities to arrive at novel solutions.

Information overload also leads to a state of fatigue where one just doesn’t want to learn anything new and nothing surprises the person. However, what is not recognized is the issue of cognitive dissonance arising from exposure to opposing views on social media. It can easily be understood as reactionary behavior that we later regret, on account of reading tweets, shared links on Facebook or elsewhere about opposing thoughts, views and opinions.

When we are exposed to differing opinions on social media, and we are not able to choose which the right one is, we experience cognitive dissonance. Some of the emotions that we experience as a result of cognitive dissonance are dread, guilt, anger, frustration, anxiety, stress, etc. Most of us are aware of our belief systems. However, when we realize that there may be a grain of truth in another person’s views and opinions, it conflicts with our own beliefs. Such cognitive dissonance caused by social media can needs to be identified, targeted and ‘treated’, as psychologists would put it.

Research has shown that extraverts tend to respond to cognitive dissonance more effectively than introverts. Extraverts do not let opposing thoughts and feelings affect them as much as introverts do. Introverts on the other hand may feel that they need to align their thoughts and opinions according to the norms and may end up hurting themselves. This behavior is more evident online and on social networking sites where people continue to bombard others with differing thoughts and opinions.

To tackle cognitive dissonance, you may take a few steps.

  1. Accept that there are opposing views around you
  2. Accept that it is possible for you to hold opposing views at times, and not being able to decide which one is better.
  3. Become aware that conflicting emotions and conflicting ideas are causing trouble to you.
  4. Understand that these conflicting ideas are not the problem, but the resulting emotions which are unpleasant.
  5. Accept the fact that cognitive dissonance is a normal part of life and that you may sometimes just have to keep your emotions aside and choose the opinion that corroborates with your ideological position.
  6. Another option is to check facts, verify sources and come to a conclusion on an opinion which earlier caused you discomfort. If something is true and you refuse to believe it, it is only going to cause you distress.
  7. On social media, try not to be reactionary.Do not post tweets or share Facebook status updates that reflect your own state of cognitive dissonance. Instead, try to help people to reduce cognitive dissonance by stating facts. Facts that are verified and backed by experts may cause unpleasant reactions but you should not be bothered by opposing views if they are not really facts.
  8. Encourage your friends and co-workers to be more open about their own cognitive dissonance. It is nothing to be ashamed of, and is in fact a blessing in disguise as it allows us to be ambivalent towards ideas and opinions, instead of rushing towards what we like the best.
  9. Use social media to express opposing views and use it to understand opposing views. However, do not let these ambivalent thoughts to cause you distress. Give suggestions to yourself that it is ok to hold opposing beliefs and if they are unpleasant, reduce the anxiety by distracting yourself and telling yourself that unpleasant emotions are transient and do not last for a long time.
  10. No matter how deep your cognitive dissonance is, do not project unpleasant emotions to your followers on Twitter of Facebook. That can send a very negative signal, instead of helping you.

People often do not understand that social media and marketing communications are based on human psychology and psychological theories have a profound effect on many decisions that executives take. While using social media too, we can witness a number of theories that are explained in social psychology.

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