Thinking Clearly #3: Cognitive Dissonance

I bought a book.”The Art of Thinking Clearly”, by Rolf Dobelli. It’s a good book. It’s filled with 99 chapters, each describing a certain psychological phenomenon that negatively affects us all. I will be randomly picking a chapter, explain how it works, and use an example from my own experience in every blog. Have you got a good example? Leave a comment!

Chapter 50: Cognitive Dissonance
Suppose you buy a new car. However, you regret your choice soon afterward: the engine sounds like a jet taking off and you just can’t get comfortable in the driver’s seat. What do you do? Giving the car back would be an admission of error, and anyway, the dealer probably wouldn’t refund all the money. So you tell yourself that a loud engine and awkward seats are great safety features that will prevent you from falling asleep at the wheel. Not so stupid after all, you think, and you are suddenly proud of your sound, practical purchase” (pp. 154-155).

Have you ever done something stupid? Have you ever bought something you didn’t like at first, but after rethinking your purchase you start defending the characteristics you didn’t like at first? If so, you might have fallen to the cognitive dissonance fallacy.

Cognitive dissonance is, bluntly said, a difference between what you know and what you think. You might know you’ve purchased a crappy product, but you might think it is actually quite good, ‘come to think of it’. Your mind is refusing to believe you spent all that money on a product you either didn’t need, don’t like, or is just a bad product after reviewing it yourself.

I might’ve fallen to cognitive dissonance myself a few times. When I was forced to stop studying political science in Leiden due to insufficient grades, I started studying Dutch language and culture. My goal has always been to become a journalist, ever since I was in grade school. I convinced myself that studying Dutch language and culture was actually a better step towards becoming a journalist. Even when I had to decipher a 16th century play as a ‘grand assignment’, I kept convincing myself that it was actually a good step. It took until my father asked me directly: “do you even enjoy studying Dutch”, that I started thinking rationally. I started puzzling together what I had done the past half-year or so. None of it was actually going to help me achieve my goal. Even though it was hard to acknowledge I threw away a whole year of my life studying something I didn’t enjoy and couldn’t use towards my overall goal, I started again the next year; studying Political Science – in Amsterdam this time, because I had thrown away my chances at studying it in Leiden.

Back to cognitive dissonance. I still owe you a public example of cognitive dissonance, and you’re going to get it.

You know what I think is one of the most remarkable, and one of the most persistent forms of cognitive dissonance? The whole flame-war between the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. I remember it vividly, partly because I participated in it for a (short) while. I bought my Xbox 360 at the beginning of 2006, roughly 4 months after its release. Even at my school, opinions were divided between which system was better. This fanboy-ish behaviour was followed with an online campaign. I just had my 15th birthday, so you can cut me some slack towards my irrational thinking at the time.

Not saying that I should’ve bought the PS3. I don’t know what the PS3 is like, I might’ve played on it maybe five times totalling.  But blindly defending the Xbox 360 over the PS3 is not something I should’ve done. At the time, however, everyone was screaming at the top of their lungs their preference of console. Even when my Xbox had the Red Ring of Death for the first time, I lauded the Microsoft support I got in repairing the console, while it shouldn’t even had to break down in the first place.

A few years down the line my opinions got less radical. I even upgraded my then 5-year-old PC to play some older games. A new world opened up before my eyes. I started upgrading my PC more and more, installing Steam and buying some of their great deals. Even though I might have 200+ games in my Steam Library as of now, I am convinced I am still cheaper of than if I had remained a console gamer.

Now with the entrance of the Xbox One and the PS4, I see it all happen again. The same shit that made me abide by a faulty console out of sheer pride is going to happen to a lot of kids. It doesn’t even matter which one of the consoles you’ll choose:  PC will (most likely) remain A) the cheapest, and B) the best choice. Especially if Valve’s SteamOS is as good as promised. I’m not too convinced on their controller just yet. I like the asymmetrical sticks of the Xbox 360 controller (I can’t, for the life of me, deal with the symmetrical dualshock layout) and I’ll probably stick by them. Combine all of that with an Oculus Rift, and I can’t see the PC losing out to its console-counterparts.

Boy, this turned out quite a bit longer than I expected. Stay tuned for next week’s ‘Thinking Clearly’, which will undoubtedly be about 50% shorter.

PS: If you do think about buying either of these consoles, ask yourself some questions beforehand, such as:

  • Do I really need this?
  • What do I expect to get from a console?
  • Does the quality of the games justify paying 60+ $/€/£
  • Do I really need this?


PPS: Glorious PC Master Race

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