Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance

F. Scott Fitzgerald said "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

The Wikipedia says cognitive dissonance is the "presence of incongruent relations among cognitions (thought and understanding) that frequently results in excessive mental stress and discomfort."

I wonder about both: that it is the mark of a first rate intelligence and that it causes mental stress.  In the world of pseudo-medicine cognitive dissonance seems to work just fine. Today I found several examples of cognitive dissonance.

First, a survey in England about homeopathy found people often held two opposing ideas:

The third and largest group (just over 40% of the population) is the most interesting. This group is likely to have used CAM and to think that homeopathy is effective. Yet they are overwhelmingly trusting of medical doctors, value science education and are optimistic about medical advances. We call this group the “dissonants” (although they are unlikely to call themselves that)...

Our research suggests that nearly half of the public don’t believe and act as if CAM and conventional medicine are at odds.

Which is an interesting result and the article suggests that such a dicotomy of thought might be corrected with science education.

However, if one example is representative, I am not so sure knowledge of science would help.  In an interview Dr. Josephine Briggs, the director of the  the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, said both

I’ve come to feel that mind-body practices, whether it’s massage therapy, chiropractic for a bad back, or meditative relaxation techniques should be part of chronic pain management.


As a patient, I wouldn’t want to go to someone who gave me a placebo.

She also notes

Q. Most of the time your agency’s findings have debunked a popular therapy.

A. There are a few exceptions...

But then somehow she can't remember any.  Not surprising as Eugenie V. Mielczarek and Brian Engler couldn't find any either.  Nor can I, but I am sure readers will correct me with one of the resounding successes of the NCCAM in validating a popular therapy.  I bet it will be a standard approach that is defined as alternative, some form of diet or exercise.

Cognitive dissonance. Don't use pseudo-medicine without it.

Points of Interest: 1/13/2014

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