Cognitive Dissonance, Our Friend and Ally

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Cognitive Dissonance, Our Friend and Ally

Humans are conflicted creatures. We do and say things every day that contradict our values and beliefs. It makes us an interesting, neurotic and dangerous species. When we contradict ourselves, we are not always able to shrug it off as easily as Walt Whitman suggests we might*. Believing one thing and doing another causes an uncomfortable mental tension which we can sometimes ignore. But as the discomfort grows, it becomes harder to sweep under the rug. This tension is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance:

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.**

To resolve dissonance we must reassess and then change at least one of our conflicting beliefs and achieve consistency. When we challenge non vegans to consider why they think dog fighting is abhorrent but butchering livestock is not, or ask how they can love their cat but wear the skin of other animals, we are forcing them to experience their own dissonance. And then offering them the chance to resolve it, by introducing them to veganism*.

This cartoon is intended to illustrate the mounting pressure of cognitive dissonance that someone who both loves and eats animals experiences. And how that discomfort eventually leads them to start thinking about veganism. Because that is how it happened for so many of us.

Rebecca Fox is as likely to be found meditating and burning incense as she is in an academic library, and yet is a passionate atheist and a skeptic. Her artistic career is fuelled primarily by ingestion of soy lattes. Her artwork can be found at Her vegan and skeptical activism is fuelled by critical thinking and compassion.

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