Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Living in Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is that sense of disconnect that happens when you are looking at something and feeling something the opposite. Wikipedia describes it more officially as

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
I'm not an expert on how it can be used in positive ways, although much of what a counselor does can be enhanced by developing cognitive dissonance in a client. That can help them see the changes that need to be made.

I am reminded of cognitive dissonance every time I see a pharmaceutical commercial on TV. Whether it's Viagra or a diabetes medication the visuals of the ad or enticing. There is often a sexual component (even if it isn't Viagra) and a sense of the natural world- the fresh out-of-doors. You are given a feeling of relaxation and excitement (with Viagra, anyway) at the same time. All these wonderful images flow across the screen.

Meanwhile the voice over, which they are required to give but hope you ignore, tells you all the awful side-effects that could occur which would mean you better get immediate medical attention- and the four-hour erection is the least of these problems.

I am sure they know the cognitive dissonance that occurs in every one of these ads. Whether it's the desire for feeling better which would lead you to want or need the medication clashing with the side-effects or even just the reminder of medical concerns in the middle of a TV show, cognitive dissonance can get in the way of the consumer buying the product.

Perhaps the one that most clearly battles this problem is the ad for the stop-smoking aid, Chantix. At one point in advertising history and perhaps even until now, the Chantix commercials ran a full two-minutes. That is a lot of ad time. Over half of that was the listing of the side-effects- and there are many.

Chantix (varenicline) is an effective medication. It is used successfully by millions as are most of the medications we see advertised. The issue isn't that they don't work, the issue is there are possible side-effects for some people. The public has the right to know of the possible problems, but it is interesting to watch the pharmaceutical companies do everything they can to keep us from being discouraged.

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