My sophomore year in college (1986-7) I had a RD (resident director of my dorm) who had a significant impact on me. He was a 24-year-old Psychology graduate student. He was tall, Italian and liked to run. He drove a Camaro. He oozed confidence and had more than his fair share of girls on campus pay attention to him despite not being the most handsome guy around. As we became friends over the year, I approached him at one point to ask the secret of his success with girls, as I was having little. He informed me of a psychology concept that explained a lot of his success - cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. People who experience cognitive dissonance have a strong desire to reduce dissonance. They accomplish this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. The can employ rationalization, confirmation bias or more negatively by blaming, and denying. Leon Festinger coined the term in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, which related how followers of a UFO cult actions changed as reality clashed with their fervent beliefs of an end of days. The classic example offered by Wikipedia is of Aesop's The Fox and the Grapes tale where a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating, as they must not be ripe or that they are sour (the origin of the term "sour grapes"). The fox reduced the desire for something that seemed unattainable by criticizing it.
In my old college relational setting, my RD friend kept himself unpredictable and a bit shocking to girls around him. As an enigma, he created dissonance and confusion for these girls. Instead of the usual pattern of rejection or acceptance, they chose non-traditional methods to try to resolve the dissonance, trying to "understand" or "solve" him which led to further interest and opportunities for him to date or play with them.
Cognitive dissonance can be readily found in the poker world as well. I recall reading a fascinating article from a while back by Kim Lund of Infinite Edge blog who stated that much of the addiction in the gaming world was created by a form of cognitive dissonance. It was the confusion and reaction created from player's expectations of winning and their losing results that kept them coming back again in again, against most reason. A player that loses faces feelings that vary from surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. People are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence. So they return again and again trying to demonstrate their superiority in the face of rational evidence that indicates their actions are both irrational and destructive.
When playing poker, cognitive dissonance rears its head continually. Each time you make a play like calling in a spot where you are likely beat, but call anyway, it can create tremendous dissonance. To deal with your blunder you rationalize that he could have been bluffing or value betting too thinly. You focus on the few times where your hero call was correct to justify all the times when you are beat and claim you were simply unlucky to run into a hand.
Two recent examples of cognitive dissonance displayed in the poker community come from the two touchstone issues from the past couple weeks; reaction to the Epic Poker League and the Macedo/Qureshi/Cates cheating scandal. The dissonance from these events has generated tremendous reaction from the general public, no matter where you come down on each issue.
The Epic Poker League created dissonance for people by introducing a new (technically not new, but first/best effort in last five years) PGA-type exclusive membership league that featured no rake with added value for players. It generated significant hype amongst some players and industry types for its departure from the expected tournament norm and thus forced players and fans to try to process that dissonance. Passionate pro and con opinions have been formed, many biased by their own prisms. Many focused their attention on the dissonance created by not understanding the financial model. As someone with no dog in the fight, I've found the strong opinions expressed only coming from those with history or allegiances that color their present opinions.
The more sensational poker community issue has been the ongoing revelations associated with the Macedo/Qureshi/Cates cheating scandal. On the weekends, and for a few hours today, I've been following the drama as it unfolded. The driving force for many forum posters over this arduous process has been a desire to understand the situation to their satisfaction. Beyond a simple drive for facts or even punishment is a motivation to fully understand how and why the different parties acted. Any dissonance created from the two not comporting to poster's understanding of how people should act fuels their hunger for more information, revelations and explanation. The actions and deceptions of these seemingly bright, motivated and wealthy young poker players created tremendous dissonance for fans, friends, and critics.
As Jeff218 expressed in his blog today, the answer to why Macedo/Qureshi/Cates made such deceptive and poor decisions is as much a function of their age and immaturity as it is of anything else. It is a strong argument in support of the notion forwarded in potential U.S. poker legislation that Internet poker won't be allowed for those under 21. While players can be strategically successful in the game well before that, as seen by hundreds of successful players over the last half decade, these young players typically don't exhibit the necessary discipline, developed moral compass and self awareness to avoid making tons of poor and rash decisions.
Looking back, I can't claim to have ever mastered the cognitive dissonance theory to help with girls, but it is a fascinating psychological concept that does begin to explain some interesting human reactions and behavior. As you face any confusing dissonance, your mind is compelled to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs to in some way reconcile this conflict.Coming to understand that process and its affect on you can increase your self-awareness and lead to better decision making in all areas of your life.