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Cognitive Dissonance


Some things are true and some things are false. Distinguishing one from the other can be challenging. Recent studies found that we use two separate parts of the brain to decide whether a statement is true or false: “Deciding whether a statement is true involves memory; determining one is false relies on reasoning and problem-solving processes.” We know the things we tell ourselves are presumed to be true and statements made by or heard from others require processing. As humans, we are engrained with misconceptions and untruths from birth. Family, caregivers, educators, friends, neighbors, and co-workers contribute to the falsehoods we tell ourselves. As a society, culture, economics, gender, race, and environment play a role in planting deeply-rooted rumors and myths into our psyche. The good news is re-programming is possible. Improving Lives Counseling Services’ team of professionals understand the subconscious mind and the contrast between mind and brain when establishing true from false.

According to a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college, in suburban, country, inner-city, private, and public schools nationwide, most students didn’t know when news was fake. Universities included in the study ranged from Stanford to state, local, and community colleges. Their findings were: “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word; bleak.” Unfortunately, this inability to identify fake news and untruths extends to adults and disparagingly to seniors. The piece of mail arriving each spring promising thousands of dollars, the robocalls at the dinner hour, the knock on the door – “we’re doing work in your neighborhood” or “we’re selling magazines to make money for college.” Emails, junk mail, pop-ups, and fake news sites dupe adolescents, teens, adults, and seniors. Loss of money, bodily injury, loss of dignity, self-trust, and self-esteem are just a few of the physical and mental injuries people suffer.

Children, adolescents, and teens challenge lessons taught and information provided by parents; this isn’t new. What is new is the online and social media sources which provide that challenge. The Stanford University study found, “…many news organizations have turned to native advertising as a source of revenue. By definition, native advertising tries to sell or promote a product in the guise of a news story. Native advertising makes it difficult for unsuspecting readers to know if and when there is an ulterior motive behind the information they counter.”

Fake news, untruths, and falsehoods affect the brain, as does bullying lies, put-downs, and pigeonholing. Telling someone they will never succeed, they are incapable of learning, or their race, culture, religion, or environment prevents them from achieving their goals, affects the brain in the same way as a false or misleading (highly believable) article or story online. Both of these scenarios can lead to psychological frailty (normally found in seniors and the elderly) and a deficit in psychological well-being. Learning that you’re living a lie, or having dreams and ambitions crushed due to a condition of birth, can lead to physical, mental, and behavioral disorders. Often tagged in “urban” environments as being “shot down”, drug usage, promiscuity, alcoholism, crime, and suicide have been linked (for some) to learning a belief, idea, or conviction was a lie. Extended exposure to the inconsistency caused by false thoughts and beliefs (cognitive dissonance) can trigger depression, anxiety, emotional disorders, and PTSD. Believing a falsehood, avoiding skepticism, and refusing contradictory information is motivated reasoning – reasoning based on pre-existing, imbedded feelings and beliefs; a way to lessen the mental discomfort of inconsistent or paradoxical information.

The counselors and therapists of Improving Lives Counseling Services diagnosis and treat cognitive dissonance reconciling what you hear and are being told, with what you know to be true. Stop fighting against yourself, shattering self-esteem, and crushing self-actualization. Call us to learn more.