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Posted on April 11th, 2014, by

The concept of the cognitive dissonance emerged in psychology to explain the conflict between cognitions in individuals but the cognitive dissonance has never been applied to the social science. However, the application of the cognitive dissonance to the sociological science could have explained many burning issues, including homelessness and behavior and identity of homeless people. The Cognitive Dissonance theory could offer a different view on homeless people and homelessness as well as give insights toward better understanding of homeless people. At the same time, homeless people are often ignored by the society, while they are perceived as outcasts or as people virtually incapable to lead a normal life. However, the view on homeless people as incapable to lead the normal life is definitely erroneous, while their exclusion from the society and the position of outcasts may be not only the result of their socioeconomic difficulties but also the result of their cognitive dissonance and their inability to tackle this problem effectively.

The cognitive dissonance is the state of having two or more conflicting cognitions (Snow & Anderson 1352). In a state of dissonance, people feel uncomfortable. They may feel anger, embarrassment, guilt, fear, surprise, etc. People have the cognitive dissonance, when, at least two of their cognitions come into conflict. For instance, when an individual observes a UFO but he/she has never believed in the extraterrestrial life and UFOs, the individual may face the conflict between his/her cognitions, his/her beliefs and his/her direct observation and emotional relation to what he/she observes. In such a way, the individual faces the conflict between his/her cognitions which is typical for the cognitive dissonance. The conflict between actual beliefs of individuals and their emotional relationships or between other cognitions provokes the dissonance which makes them feel uncomfortable. They feel as if their view and beliefs come into clashes with each other. In such a conflicting situation, individuals have problems with the adequate resolution of their problem. At any rate, often individual cannot resolve the problem objectively without external assistance. Nevertheless, individuals having the cognitive dissonance look for plausible resolution of the conflicting cognitions problem.

Normally, people have a motivational drive to reduce their conflicting cognitions. Nevertheless, the resolution of the cognitive dissonance may be twofold. On the one hand, people may alter their existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system. Returning to the example of the individual observing what he/she perceives as the UFO, it is possible to presuppose that the individual may elaborate new beliefs and suggest that the UFO he/she observes is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the atmosphere but the science has not got the adequate explanation of this phenomenon yet. Hence, the individual agree that people may belief in and observe UFOs. In such a way, the individual expands his/her cognition adding the new belief and explaining the conflicting cognitions for him-/herself. In such a way, the individual just develops the new belief to resolve the conflict between his/her current conflicting cognitions. Therefore, the individual avoids the conflcting finding the plausible solution, which though may be and normally is absolutely subjective.

Alternatively, the individual have the cognition dissonance may choose another strategy to resolve the conflicting cognitions problem. The individual may reduce the importance of anyone of the dissonant elements. For instance, the individual may believe that the UFO he/she observes is not the UFO at all and he/she has just some troubles with his eyesight. This strategy is totally different from the strategy of altering existing cognitions. Instead, the individual re-evaluates existing cognitions through reducing the value of either of the conflicting cognitions. As a result, the devaluation or reduction of the importance of either cognition eliminates the cognitive dissonance and the individual feels comfortable again.

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