Human Consistency in Social Psychology

“Oneness,” is a concept believed in Buddhism as the unison of the body and the mind. The Buddhist thinking suggests that achieving this harmonious balance will help them to achieve Enlightenment. What is interesting is that everyone seeks their own consistencies as well. While not always for the same reasons, people strive to make their actions, beliefs, and attributions match up to their own standards and views. To do this people must be able to objectively evaluate people, ideas, and their own selves.

The first kind of these self-regulating processes is the Self Awareness Theory. Self Awareness Theory states that when people focus on themselves they compare their behaviors with their beliefs about themselves. We obtain the process of self awareness through introspection. Introspection is the process where people look inward to find and examine their own thoughts, feelings, and motives. Introspection leads one to focus on his or her own standards leading to the comparison of the Self Awareness Theory. Once people have their comparisons, they will either rejoice because they match up or they will have to make changes when they do not. From there people either change their behaviors to match their beliefs or find ways to distract themselves from their glaring inconsistencies, such as drinking or watching television. While using the latter may not fix the inconsistency, it does effectively remove the inconsistency from their minds giving them a temporary solution.

Another process that causes people to evaluate and adjust their beliefs and actions is the Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Cognitive dissonance is experienced when two or more of a person’s cognitions are inconsistent. For example, if a person who does not like fish is asked to try a food dish containing pineapple and eats it despite his dislike of fish, he or she will most likely experience dissonance from the inconsistency of eating something they don’t like. When this dissonance arises, one can either change his or her behavior to match his or her beliefs, one can change his or her own thoughts to match the behavior, or one can introduce a new cognition to the situation to find balance. In the previous example, that person could change his or her behavior by spitting out the dish, change his or her thoughts by thinking the fish taste wasn’t bad, or add a new cognition believing he or she only did it as a favor.

But the connections we make do not always refer to beliefs about ourselves. People like to believe that life is fair and that bad things will happen to the people who deserve it. Unfortunately, as many of us have been told by our parents, “Life isn’t always fair (kid),” (as passed on by James “Big Jim” Wray). When people think that bad things can happen to them for no good reason, it places fear in them. So when a person sees misfortune happening to various people that are not part of one’s in-group, or people who he or she does not share a common bond with, that person will attribute the misfortune to the other individual’s person. For example, one could classify a homeless person for being lazy and unmotivated to work rather than thinking about situational factors such as if the homeless person had been laid off from work and recently divorced. People who make these snap judgments often do it because they fear that at some point they could suffer the same fate. In order to calm these fears, they focus on things that separate themselves from the said people whom misfortune has affected. For example, if the person making the judgment had a job, they would focus on it thinking that it will be a long-term job to keep a steady income.

It is a person’s natural inclination to strive for consistency between their thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Whether people fear for their image or their future, it is a constant focus for one to keep one’s self balanced and in harmony.