Science Friday recently had a great segment on cognitive dissonance, defined as:

A psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that may result from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one’s beliefs.

Because it is uncomfortable, your brain will seek out ways to resolve the contradictions.

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So if you think you’re a good and moral person, but you fudge a little on your taxes, you might justify this with an excuse like: “I’ve overpaid in previous years,” or “the government is using my money in an immoral way,” or “everyone else is doing it.”

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New research shows that this is not some individual character flaw, but a strong and consistent human impulse. Brain scans show that the brain floods with pleasure when conflicting ideas are resolved.

I thought the segment went a long way toward explaining why skeptics on global warming still exist. When presented with conflicting views, such as “I am a good person” vs. “my lifestyle is destroying the planet,” the brain comes up with a way to resolve them, such as, “global warming is a conspiracy cooked up by celebrities and scientists.”

This really highlights why we need to emphasize solutions. If we give people ways to address the problem, they won’t need to deny it.

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