Cognitive Dissonance and Duck Eggs

I drove past a farm with a large sign that read, “DUCK EGGS FOR SALE.” I immediately felt nauseous by the idea of eating a duck egg. Ducks are the cute creatures that I see swimming on ponds and in funny gifs and memes. Why would I want to EAT one?

As someone who enjoys learning about others’ cultures, I know that food choice is connected to ethnicity, lifestyle, customs, and traditions. But, my initial reaction was adverse and grounded in my lifestyle and customs. After acknowledging my response, my brain shifted gears, and I realized that, while I do not eat meat, I do consume chicken eggs. How could I feel such an intense emotion about eating duck eggs when I eat chicken eggs? How different are they really? Is it because I think ducks are cuter than chickens? Do I need to stop eating chicken eggs now? 

Years ago, in a course called Leading and Managing Change as part of my doctoral studies, we learned that cognitive dissonance is a way to facilitate personal change. Webster’s Dictionary defines cognitive dissonance as “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.” As humans, experiencing cognitive dissonance is very uncomfortable and disconcerting (Festinger, 1957). We like to have congruency in our beliefs, values, and attitudes so much that we will rationalize our thoughts and justify our behaviors to eliminate inconsistency, avoid discredit, and reject new information.

But, cognitive dissonance can motivate us to seek new information to rectify a mental tug-of-war, thus provoking a change in perspective to realign ourselves. Over the last 15 years, my mentor in Social Emotional Learning, Thom Stecher, and I have had countless conversations about integrity. Integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided” - when, as Thom says, everything you think, you say, and you do is in alignment. When we live a life of integrity, minimize cognitive dissonance. We align our actions, behaviors with our values, thoughts, beliefs. 

Moving Forward

I continue to relish experiences of cognitive dissonance and lean into the uncomfortableness. I embrace these moments as an invitation to challenge my current views, converse with others who hold different perspectives, and consider shifting my beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.

When you come up against dueling beliefs, consider the three questions below to guide you to reconciliation and congruency.

  • Question #1. In what situations have you experienced cognitive dissonance?

  • Question #2a and b. What two thoughts, values, or beliefs were “playing tug-of-war?” How important is it to reconcile these conflicting feelings?

  • Question #3. What new information might need to be obtained, beliefs might need to shift, or what actions might need to be taken for realignment to achieve balance and integrity?

Final Thoughts

I did stop eating eggs for a few weeks. But, eggs are an easy protein source, and I began to reintroduce egg whites back into my diet. Through reflection during that time, I began to align duck and chicken eggs by exploring my emotional response and food’s cultural aspects. Please understand, I still won’t eat duck eggs, but I have shifted away from the physical aversion I initially had when reading the sign “DUCKS EGGS FOR SALE.”

Change can happen... even if in small, incremental steps. I hold on tightly to that belief and that helps motivate me to keep moving forward.

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