Kristen Espinoza

English 111

Cognitive dissonance


Diet or no diet? That is the question.


Diets are one of those things that many people start, but very few can actually stick to it. Diets are lightly thrown around in conversations every day, but how many times are they acted upon? We say we want to get healthy and live a better lifestyle, but our own minds have a way of talking us out of it. We make justifications to convince not only other people, but ourselves too, that just one little piece of cake won’t affect our diet. Taking a look at cognitive dissonance will help you to better understand why this phenomenon occurs.



What is Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is when one’s attitudes, thoughts, ideas or beliefs conflict, creating a mental discomfort that needs to be resolved. It is human nature to seek consistency and certainty in life; our minds will go to great lengths to do this. Information will be twisted; excuses will be made up in order to quiet the opposing beliefs within our minds. Typically, our brains do not like dissonance, so we must change our beliefs and ideas to allow consistence. This can occur with school, sports, homework, jobs, and many more. I will be talking to you about how cognitive dissonance effects dieting.


Related to diets

In relation to diets, cognitive dissonance would be doing one thing and believing in another. One example would be to reduce the importance of dissonant cognitions. For example, only taking a bite or two of cheesecake would be reducing the importance of the fact that you just broke your diet and had cheesecake. We know that we should not be eating that cake, but our minds tell us different.

The second justification is adding consonant cognitions, such as convincing yourself that you will work out and extra few minutes longer the next day. This allows you to cheat without feeling bad because you said you will work out a little extra for your cheat which makes it okay, but in reality it’s humans dealing with cognitive dissonance.

The third example of cognitive dissonance is removing or changing dissonant cognitions. This could be not eating the cheesecake at all, removing the dissonance completely. You know it is bad and you know you are on a diet. Therefore, you don’t eat it!



When incentives are mixed into the equation it tends to make stakes higher. They can be a motivator; for example, if someone were to offer you a free vacation to Mexico if you did a certain diet and lost fifteen pounds in two months, 9 out of 10 people will succeed. On the other hand we could say that the incentive would be to have a healthier lifestyle and a pat on the back afterward. I am confident that the end results would show less people participating in the diet if Mexico was not in the mix. This does not relate to cognitive dissonance, but it shows that incentives can mess with people which causes cognitive dissonance.


Just Do It!

Almost 30% of college students are classified as overweight due to lack of healthy eating and regular exercise. A study was done on one hundred and twenty-six college students to test the hypothesis that states that when the students feel cognitive dissonance between diets and physical activity and their actual diets and physical activity, they are more likely to change their thoughts and engage in healthy behaviors.

After feeling cognitive dissonance, people may have a higher level of risk and worry regarding their negative diets and lack of exercise which can help influence positive health behaviors. This study found that giving people feedback that their diets were less healthy than their peers made them defensive and embarrassed, which then made them want to have a better diet. This shows that associations among health related cognitions may be influenced by threats. For example, I like pizza, but I am also trying to lose weight. The problem with that is, if I eat pizza, I might gain weight, and if I want to lose weight, then I shouldn’t eat the pizza.

The results of the study done suggested that, with regards to both health and appearance, risk perception and worry were equally dependent. Making college students feel greater levels of risk for a lack of physical appearance may positively affect their intentions to change their diet and physical behavior. This information is to show you that cognitive dissonance controls our decisions and actions whether we realize it or not.



When it comes down to it, cognitive dissonance is a main problem in diets. It is hard to stick with something, even if we know it is good for us, because our desires are sometimes stronger than our minds goals. I don’t know why we do this; make justifications, cheat, lie, sneak. But the ideal goal would be to have a reaction like the people in the study and not the people who do it when there are incentives.


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