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29 November, 2010 / Ash

Cognitive Dissonance

Ash standing in front of an image of a brain

Image courtesy of Paul Hagon

I recently had the opportunity to speak at TEDxCanberra.

When Stephen Collins first approached me for this event, I was going to speak about the disgraceful state of Australian pharmacies – who now sell more snake oil, fad diets, cosmetics and alternative therapies than science-based medicine. Instead, I opted to go for the root of the problem: faulty reasoning – especially that caused by cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by attempting to hold ideas, beliefs, or behaviours that conflict. Our minds quickly act to relieve this dissonance by discarding or minimising the impact of one of the ideas, beliefs or behaviours by employing cognitive biases – and this can lead to faulty reasoning.

Being aware of how cognitive dissonance and cognitive biases affect us doesn’t stop them, but it can make us think twice before acting. I thought that was an idea worth spreading.

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