The Art of Decision Making: Unpacking Cognitive Dissonance

Coach deep in thought about the effects of Cognitive Dissonance on decision making.

For any coach, having a clear vision is essential. Nevertheless, at times, outcomes can challenge our deeply-held beliefs. So, when our convictions face scrutiny, how do we react? Dive deep into the concept of ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ to understand the inner tensions faced when beliefs are under the spotlight.

Read more: The Art of Decision Making: Unpacking Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance: A Deep Dive

Cognitive Dissonance describes the inner conflict arising when our beliefs or values face challenges. Most people perceive themselves as logical and wise beings, consistently capable of drawing correct conclusions. Nonetheless, nobody enjoys being proven wrong. Such instances can be quite unsettling, particularly if it affects significant decisions. This discomfort can stir up irritability and raise doubts about one’s self-worth.

Coaches’ Dilemma:

When strategies go awry, coaches are often at a crossroads. Consider a football coach aiming for high-pressure tactics against opponents. If due to insufficient training or talent, the approach fails, it can lead to a game loss. Instead of introspection, some coaches might blame their players for failing to execute. This behavior is a classic example of filtering, twisting, or ignoring facts to maintain one’s self-righteousness.

Experiments on Cognitive Dissonance:

Charles Lord, a psychologist, conducted an enlightening experiment. He presented research files to two groups: one supporting capital punishment and the other opposing it. Despite expecting both groups to come closer after reading balanced evidence, they only grew more polarized. This study underscored how humans, when faced with challenging evidence, tend to further entrench themselves in their beliefs.

Brain Activities & Dissonance:

Researcher Keise Izuma showcased a causal relationship between activities in the pMFC (part of our thinking brain) and behavior shifts necessary to reduce dissonance. By momentarily reducing the pMFC activity using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), participants could decrease their attitude adjustments and desire for consistency.

Further studies revealed that cognitive dissonance engages various brain areas like the insula and the DLPFC. While the insula processes emotions and becomes active during distress, the DLPFC relates to cognitive control.

The Silver Lining:

Surprisingly, as Izuma explains, cognitive dissonance can boost our mental health and happiness. It often leaves us content with our decisions or at least empowers us to justify them. The key takeaway? Adopt a more objective approach. This reduces internal conflicts and tensions.

Real-life Application:

One can draw inspiration from Louis van Gaal’s press conference upon his appointment as the national coach, where he involves players in his decision-making process. Although not a one-size-fits-all solution, integrating players’ perspectives and being open to feedback can be beneficial.

In conclusion, while many coaches already employ inclusive decision-making processes, understanding the theory behind cognitive dissonance can shed light on sources of internal tension.


Charles Lord, Lee Ross en Mark Lepper, ‘Biased Assimilation and attitude polarisation: The Effects of Poor Theories on subsequently considerderd evidence’, journal of personality and social psychology, 1979 deel 37.”What happens to the brain when we experience cognitive dissonance?” in SA Mind 26, 6, 72 (November 2015) doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind1115-72b 

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