Gemma looks happy, but she feels miserable. She believes in saving endangered species. However, she went to a party with friends during her vacation and ate Atlantic bluefin tuna, which is on the endangered species list!

Woman with happy and sad facial expressions. Images by wayhomestudio on Freepik

Have you ever made decisions that conflicted with your beliefs?

What did you do to feel better about yourself?

Find out why Gemma's decision is so upsetting and what she could do to feel better.

Gemma's cognitive dissonance explained

Cognitive dissonance happens when our behavior is the opposite of our beliefs. Like Gemma, we experience mental discomfort and stress that forces us to restore harmony between our behavior and beliefs.

Some causes of cognitive dissonance are decision, forced compliance and effort.

For example:

Gemma had two options — eat bluefin tuna with her friends or eat vegetables. Her decision to have tuna didn't align with her belief in saving endangered species.

Fear can force us to comply with requests that conflict with our values (e.g. lying for your boss to keep your job).

Spending money, time, and effort on a project with disappointing results is difficult to accept. We might justify our dissonance by telling ourselves we learned new skills and did better than our competitors.

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There are negative and positive ways to respond to cognitive dissonance.

Let's take a closer look at both approaches.

Avoid negative reactions

The duration of cognitive dissonance depends on our response. For instance, justifying the conflicting behavior can cause more discomfort that could result in long-term anxiety and a pattern of poor decision-making.

Gemma should avoid negative reactions such as:

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  • Trying to convince others that her behaviour is right

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  • Attempting to rationalize her behavior to feel better about herself

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  • Hiding her feelings and actions from others

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  • Becoming angry, frustrated, or defensive about her actions

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  • Ignoring her feelings and situations that remind her of her behavior

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  • Ignoring advice from a counsellor or psychologist


In the fox and grapes story, a fox wants a bunch of grapes but can't reach it. After many attempts to get the grapes, he decides he doesn't want them. He walks away and tells himself the grapes are probably sour. Which statement is true about the story?

Embrace the positive

The key to managing cognitive dissonance is being honest with yourself. Acknowledge your actions and take positive steps to restore mental harmony.

Here are some helpful steps you can take:

Admit your mistake and forgive yourself. Commit to doing better going forward, and don't dwell on past behavior.

Be clear about your values and beliefs. Think about how you feel when you follow them. Before making decisions, think about how you would feel if you ignored them.

Sometimes our values or beliefs are wrong. Don't be afraid to challenge and change your outlook to restore harmony.

Talk to someone you trust. A parent's or friend's wise advice can help you reflect on your actions and learn how to make better decisions.

Seek professional help if you're unable to restore mental harmony.

A smiling, excited young woman. She says, Images by wayhomestudio on Freepik


You are Gemma's best friend. She tells you about her behaviour and how she feels. What could you say to help her feel better about herself?

Take Action

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Do you feel better equipped to manage your cognitive dissonance?

Below are some additional resources for you. Share your knowledge and these resources with family and friends.


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