Cognitive Dissonance – when we can’t accept reality


Cognitive Dissonance – when we can’t accept reality

Dr Rachael Sharman

Friday 28 June 2019 1:15 pm for 1:30 start

Cognitive Dissonance in its simplest form is the inability for humans to hold inconsistent or conflicting beliefs.  It arises when we receive information about someone or something that we simply cannot believe e.g., Lucky the lovely labrador who has never hurt a fly, just attacked and killed his owner.  We look for ways to “resolve” the psychological confusion and sometimes emotional turmoil.  If the evidence is irrefutable, we may accept that Lucky the labrador did indeed kill his owner.  But in the case of ambiguity, we may engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics to support our original opinion of Lucky (another dog must have attacked the owner, Lucky must have mistaken his owner for someone else etc etc)

 In more sinister examples, cognitive dissonance arises when a loved one, trusted friend or even revered character is accused of immoral or unbecoming behaviour.  It may come as a surprise to many that when a much-loved member of a family is accused of abuse, it is often the victim that is excommunicated from the family.

Families can find it easier to save face by casting the accuser as a liar, insane, or having a hidden agenda, than to oust a more powerful perpetrator — who will likely take with them resources, connections and years of genuinely loving and positive relationships with other family members that they are loathe to lose. Accusers are left in no doubt that in disclosing their experience they will bear the full responsibility for “tearing the family apart” and are further guilted into silence to preserve family image/identity and harmony.

This talk will discuss the role of cognitive dissonance in our decisions, attitudes and behaviours, with a focus on what tends to happen when we simply cannot believe bad things about those we love.

About the Speaker:

Rachael Sharman is a senior lecturer and researcher in the field of psychology, especially child/adolescent development.

Rachael supervises Honours, Masters and PhD students and is the current principal supervisor for projects investigating: Facebook and Tinder use by young adults; high conflict/intractable custody disputes; and interventions to improve parent-child attachment.

Rachael is a highly engaging and popular lecturer, who concentrates on cultivating work-relevant skills in her teaching and assessment. Rachael has fostered the development of a robust career focus among undergraduate psychology students at USC by pioneering annual careers-advice seminars, establishing the USC Psychology Industry Liaison group, and maintaining a weekly showcase of psychology-related jobs in the local region.

Rachael frequently represents USC via public speaking engagements at national and international conferences, as well as in schools and community groups. Rachael is regularly seen in the media, including newspapers, magazines (e.g. Time), internet (ABC news, The Conversation), local, national and international radio, and television (e.g. ABC and commercial news, SBS Insight and The Project).

Posted in Friday Talks.