Tag Archives: cognitive challenge

Cognitive Dissonance and Critical Thinking

The change that must soon happen if the earth is to be allowed a chance to heal requires rapid cognitive challenge. We need to change the way we think.

In the book, We First (2012) Mainwaring talks at great length about the nature of Cognitive Dissonance.  He makes the point that there is worldwide recognition that the human race has mistakenly treated the planet upon which we live in a selfish manner.  The change that must soon happen if the earth is to be allowed a chance to heal requires rapid cognitive challenge.  We need to change the way we think.

Mainwaring talks a lot about values.  He claims that because we need to rapidly change the way we think about how we use precious resources, we need to become open minded.  We must face up to the rapid, challenging nature of transformative change.  Because of the reach of the Internet and the strength of learning styles that cooperate within Learning Communities there is now a rapid increase in the way information sharing can occur.   This means that how we value others and all cultures is now an urgent priority if we are to meet the millennium goals on target.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Replacing a Me First mindset with a We First mindset is very challenging.  When human beings are majorly challenged, a so called Flight Fright Fight syndrome is sure to set in.  These are automatic reactions to threat that all beings experience when they encounter a new idea.  If you know someone who doesn’t seem to react this way to new ideas it might be because they have consciously chosen to seek out new ideas and therefore have developed the strength of self-reflexive behaviour.  This article is about developing that capacity. It seems to be historical fact that people are programmed to initially turn and simply run from new ideas.  In the quote above this is what Ghandi is describing. 

ignorance = trying to wish new ideas away

ridicule = taunting and sabotage so that the innovator will “give up their madness”

fight = squabbles, bullying and war

To be ignored is to have people turn away and reject an idea.  If people stay to fight against the idea it is often because it has triggered an inner fear.   People will often turn against their fears and begin to “pick at” the notion in the ‘hen pecking’ fashion of ridicule.  This is because they are scared.  Often in this day and age, it is fear of being overwhelmed, looking silly or of the level of work involved in learning something new if they accept the implications of change. If the first two options don’t cause the innovator to desist, detractors will often turn towards a ‘fight’ mode of behaviour.   Unions will organise and picket, shoppers might boycott or perhaps students will simply change university.  Bit by bit, people will try to find a way to fight back against change.

Change Agents and Self Sacrifice

When the history of critical thinking and concept development are explored as students learn about critical thinking and concept development, Mainwaring asks us to be aware of cognitive dissonance and its halo effect.   Only the brave hearted openly risk the back lash that innovative thinking brings.  Ghandi was shot, John Lennon was too and this YouTube video shows how Yoko Ono felt when she was the laughing point of every joke and the victim of shameless ridicule as she developed her Concept Art.  She is highly acclaimed as an artist in her own right today but this was not always so.  She suffered a great deal to bring this art movement to fruition. It is sad that this is the way performance Art, Installation Art and Concept Art were born.  The creative leaders of those movements were actually pointing the way to creating the compassion and empathy required if we – the people of the world – are to get to the Millennium Goals on target.   Whilst cognitive dissonance is a self-protective mechanism that has protected human beings from danger and threat in the past, we are caused to ask, “Is there anything we can now do to lessen the impact of this phenomenon as we attempt to push past barriers to transformative change and world peace harmony and healing?”

Negative Concepts that Cluster Around Innovative Creative Thinking

There are a series of concepts that cluster around innovative thinking

  •      scape goating (choosing a worthy victim to bear the anger of the crowd)
  •      halo effect (painting the chosen victim as exceptionally bad so as to justify aggressive behaviour towards this victim)
  •      shoot the messenger (punishing that victim as a way of preventing change and venting anger)
  •      disruption (striking, sabotage, manipulation and the like)

Mainwaring’s book is about encountering a world where no one need be victim of these bullying processes any more, so long as they are aware of the processes for what they are.  “Natural human reactions to change.”  He claims that unlike the times of Copernicus and Galileo, modern thinkers have support systems they can choose to put in place to counterbalance the rejection that innovative thinking can bring.

Setting Up Support Systems to Validate Positive Change

The strange thing about cognitive dissonance is that up until now even though people ‘knew they knew’ what they were doing when they scape goated and blamed their worthy victim, the phenomenon seemed to continue anyway.  There has always been bullying in various forms but fortunately most civilized countries are now developing laws about workplace aggression.  This has begun to have a impact on how far people are allowed to go when they set out to ridicule others so that they feel better about themselves or to prevent change.

Symptoms of Workplace Bullying Motivated by Cognitive Dissonance

As soon as readers see the list of behaviours that accompany cognitive dissonance they recognise them because up until now they have been accepted as a normal aspect of working in a changing environment.

Behaviours are

  • exclusion
  • ridicule
  • suppression of voice/silencing
  • sabotage of projects
  • vandalism of projects
  • keeping people out of vital information loops
  • rumours, gossip, slander, and defamation of character
  • stone walling
  • pay back

There is also potential for this kind of manipulation, bullying and standover occurring in cyberspace.  However because of the reach of cyberspace it is now possible to set up innovative empowered learning communities that have rules to govern smooth communication and the protection of the voice of all concerned.

These forms of protection and proactive encouragement of voice could be

  •      impartial moderation
  •      capacity to shift conversation to another dedicated discussion thread
  •      education about bullying
  •      education about resilience and perseverance (Positive Intelligence)
  •      education about the nature cognitive dissonance

Transformative Education and the Psychological Pain of Change

Transformative Education can cause emotional stress because when people become aware that this reaction to change can be perceived as bullying another range of reactions are set into play.  Some may become hurt but others can over compensate with self-justification and this can turn into what is known on the Internet as flaming.

The simple solution is to manage the behaviours without judging the people involved.  If the whole community acknowledges that this ‘hen picking’ behaviour seems to be a part of human nature, processes can be set in place to manage the behaviour whilst removing the emotions that accompany judging the behaviours.   This process can be achieved quickly and simply by setting up incubators as safe havens on the Internet.

Simple ground rules for discussion can be set up that are monitored until the group becomes attuned to what the innovation process is like.   If the process is accepted the group could gradually become self-monitoring.   So if an idea is tossed into the ring that causes ridicule and dissension, a previously arranged checklist of protective behaviours can be adhered to, which will empower proactive behaviours that protect the victim as well as empower and encourage the persecutors to recognise, control and change their behaviour.

This checklist could be

  • stop and notice asking “Why do I feel threatened now?”
  • investigate with a clear mind
  • hold all judgement
  • welcome (perhaps shift the thread to a new clear area set up to protect that idea)
  • journal…. have participants journal their thoughts feelings and reactions so that they become aware of their own behaviour when an idea or situation is challenging
  • have a discussion about the process on another thread where people can come to know human behaviour better through reflexive and discursive application
  •  continually ensure that issues are dealt with openly and honestly so that negative behaviours do not creep in unnoticed

If a community has a way to deal with the introduction of new innovative ideas or material, the creativity of the community is likely to increase because it can be protected.  The capacity for innovation of the group is increased.  People are less likely to be hurt and this ensures that the drop out rate will be low.

Changing the way we think is imperative if we seek to design “A world that educates and inspires its youth, teaching them that the human race has the capacity to find solutions to all of our problems if we put our collective minds and hands to work”. (Mainwaring 2011)


  • Mainwaring, Simon (2011-06-07).We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World (p. 1). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Copyright Jo Murphy