Of Pandemics, Paradoxes And Cognitive Dissonance: Covid-19
Very Interesting|November/December 2020
Living through this difficult time raises demanding questions about what – or who – the real problems are
Sirion Robertson

I first heard the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ from Peter du Preez, who at that time (1968) was a Senior Lecturer in the Psychology Department at UCT. I was in the Zoology Department, and he was an occasional member of our squash playing group. We were simple zoology teachers, and Peter introduced us to some interesting terms and concepts. Cognitive dissonance was one. Over the many years since then (I haven’t played squash for at least 40, and I left UCT in 1970), I would sometimes revisit the notion of cognitive dissonance and see what I could fit it to in the surrounding world. It fits the COVID situation perfectly.

“Cognitive dissonance: The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.” (Oxford Dictionary)

The world population is in the penumbra of this disturbing but interesting state of mind. I googled cognitive dissonance (CD) while writing this article. The theory is alive and kicking and has recently been updated. Indeed, one recent contribution has brought it into the biological camp (or vice versa) by looking at evolutionary implications of dissonance. In nosing around the net, I immediately came across an example of current CD: to mask or not to mask – that is the question. We are caught between the millstones of experts who disagree: that is the dissonance. In fact, this seems to have been more or less resolved. Masking is winning by a short head, although there are still disturbing items of fact or logic adhering to the non-masking argument. Like a melody, the dissonance lingers on. One of the things that holds the attention of CD theorists is the ways in which we resolve it, and the consequences of our choices. Deception and denial are – predictably – high on the list.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM VERY INTERESTINGView All

EYES ON THE SKY

Earth-bound telescopes are transforming our understanding of the universe. But we think they look pretty out-of-this-world too…

4 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

A learning curve

There’s nothing like a nationwide school closure to help you recognise the valuable work that teachers do, every single day

2 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

An Ocean Of Mysteries

Earth’s biggest habitat is also the one that we know the least about. Now, a new wave of innovators are engineering the technology that will help us find out more. Here’s what they are discovering…

10 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

Covid-19 Could Cause Delirium, Brain Inflammation And Stroke

A study carried out on a small number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients at England’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery has linked the coronavirus to a number of neurological conditions

4 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

Could Antibodies Found In Llamas Help US To Defeat Covid-19?

Researchers at the McLellan Lab in Austin, Texas, are using llama antibodies to attack ‘spike proteins’ found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus

4 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

Know Your Mind

Our brain uses shortcuts to think quickly but, sometimes, these mental timesavers let us down. Dr Pragya Agarwal discusses the science of cognitive biases, and why it’s more important than ever to understand how they hold sway over our views

7 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

Of Pandemics, Paradoxes And Cognitive Dissonance: Covid-19

Living through this difficult time raises demanding questions about what – or who – the real problems are

5 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

To The Ends Of The Earth

Scientists are going to extreme lengths to find out how climate change is affecting our planet

5 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

Be Mindful Of What's Good For You

Try out some tools for a more relaxed headspace

4 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020

How To Get A Good Night's Sleep

Do you often find yourself lying awake in bed, unable to drop off? Help is at hand from sleep scientist Dr Alice Gregory

2 mins read
Very Interesting
November/December 2020