< Go Back

Generating Cognitive Dissonance for Fun

Generating Cognitive Dissonance for Fun

    One of my favorite debate techniques involves the use of questions instead of statements. I’ve never seen this method change anyone’s mind, but it can generate an unusually clear form of cognitive dissonance. And that’s good entertainment for you. 

    Let me give you an example with this true story. This one is designed to induce cognitive dissonance in someone who believes President Elect Trump is a dangerous racist.

    — Start —

    Today I heard a woman refer to her own grandmother as “Italian.” I was offended just listening to her spew this hate. I happen to know that her grandmother was born in this country. It was her grandmother’s parents that immigrated here from Italy. It would be proper to say her grandmother is an American citizen with Italian cultural heritage. But why even bring up her ethnicity at all? Calling her grandmother “Italian” for no good reason is a racist dog whistle to my ears. 

    Wouldn’t you agree?

    — End —

    That’s the question that will trigger cognitive dissonance. But not right away. There are two more steps. 

    1. Your subject will disagree, explaining that people often say “Italian” as a shorthand to mean someone has family roots in Italy. It isn’t the least-bit racist.

    2. Point out that this is just like the time President Elect Trump referred to Judge Curiel  as “Mexican.” That was racist, so this must be too.

    Now sit back and watch the fun.

    Your subject will quickly jump from the idea that the mere use of the word “Mexican” is racist to the related argument that Trump used it in the context of saying the judge wasn’t qualified.

    Respond with this high-ground argument: In a legal context, everyone understands that judges and jurors can be biased by their major associations and life experiences. That’s why judges routinely recuse themselves from specific cases, and why lawyers reject certain jurors. All people are biased. The best you can do is find people who are not biased on a specific topic. 

    In the case of Judge Curiel, we can reasonably assume he associated with family members and friends who shared his Mexican cultural heritage. We also know that specific demographic group is overwhelmingly anti-Trump because of immigration issues. How do you think judge Curiel would feel at his next family gathering if he were to acquit Trump on all charges?

    The credibility of the legal system requires that we avoid the appearance of bias and the potential for bias when we can. Any defendant in a court case should have the right to question bias. That’s what Trump did. In a legal context it is appropriate and routine to question bias by association. It only looked shocking because he used the word “Mexican” as a shorthand, the way normal people speak, and he was in a political context at the same time as a legal context.

    Aaaand you’re done.

    Now watch your subject squirm and change the subject to some other thing Trump did. This method is guaranteed to NOT change anyone’s mind. This is only for entertainment and so you see cognitive dissonance as it forms. It’s freaky.

    Update: And if that didn’t get you the cognitive dissonance you wanted, send this article to your subject’s phone and ask the person to read it in front of you. That should do it.

    Here’s another one that is shorter. Ask an anti-Trumper this question:

    “I wonder why Jared Kushner doesn’t realize Trump and his key advisors are huge anti-semites. Why do you think he hasn’t noticed?”

    Then just watch the show.

    You might like reading my book because systems are better than goals.

    — WhenHub App —

    And you might love my startup’s new app for geostreaming your location to a friend as you approach your meeting spot. Here are links:

    WhenHub app for Apple: http://apple.co/2eLL3Oh

    WhenHub app for Android: http://bit.ly/2fIb6L7

More Episodes