Bridging Cognitive Polyphasia and Cognitive Dissonance: The Role of Individual Differences in the Tolerance and Negotiation of Discrepant Cognitions
Cognitive dissonance refers to a mental state in which contradictory cognitions or behaviors cause psychological discomfort (Festinger, 1957). In 1961, Moscovici introduced an alternative phenomenon for cognitive treatment of discordant information: cognitive polyphasia, a state in which an individual retains and utilizes multiple systems of knowledge in making sense of a given social object. Prima facie, these two psychological phenomena appear to be contradictory, with cognitive dissonance theory suggesting individuals maintain cognitive balance through achieving agreement between their cognitions and behavior, and with cognitive polyphasia implying that individuals strategically employ various rationalities, as needed by environmental negotiation. Social representations theorists have yet to fully reconcile how these distinct cognitive phenomena coexist, but have suggested cultural differences may explain preferences for cognitive coherence or the use of multiple knowledge systems. In the present article, I assert that whether one is disposed to experiencing cognitive dissonance or engages in cognitive polyphasic strategy is not only a cultural consideration, but is also guided by individual differences in self-standards, self-monitoring, self-consciousness/self-awareness, and preference for consistency. I attempt to offer theoretical foundations for the integration of cognitive polyphasia and cognitive dissonance perspectives by elucidating how individual differences may explain variance in tolerance of inconsonant cognitions. To this end, I recover focus on the social individual as the unit of analysis.