Defining Cognitive Conflict

Conflicts are meaning or expectation violations. These occur when you believe something about the world (broadly construed) and the world tells you that you are potentially wrong or lacking. This is a discomfort, potentially driven by the uncertainty of the outcomes. Uncertainty is bad for life because it is risk, which can mean danger or even potential death.

Expectation violations, or conflicts between yourself and the world, are primarily negative, but can also be positive. An expectation violation is the reason for every disagreement that has ever happened including all of the wars ever. What is a war except two (groups of) people had different understandings of the world and they have decided that the best way to decide who is right is to fight it out. Conflict is also when you are positively surprised, at, for instance doing better than you thought you would on a test or an individual doing something unexpectedly nice for you.

Conflicts can be about huge things like religion or politics, or they can be about small things like our favorite types of soda or music. But the largest and most important topics also elicit the most negative discussion; they are important aspects of how we think about the world. A link between importance of the topic and negativity is supported by situations where people actively avoid discussing religion and politics because they do not want to create conflict.

Most generally speaking, the reason we talk about things is because we disagree about them. More explicitly, if everyone agrees about something, we generally do not discuss it (e.g., the earth is round and goes around the sun). But note that 200 or 300 years ago, when there was much less consensus about these faces, they were much more discussed.

Conflicts are also when you realize that you don’t (or might not) know something, like that the earth is actually flat. This is like getting an answer wrong in class, or being confronted with a task that the individual does not know how to do (e.g., run a statistical model they know nothing about).

The key is that we rely upon meaning in order to move productively through the world (to meet our goals). This necessitates not only useful knowledge, but confidence in that knowledge. (did you see the ‘not’ and ‘but’, it is a lack, one needs both, conflict! :).

When the world tells us that the way we think about the world might be incorrect or incomplete, we don’t like this and it leads to certain predictable responses. If someone told you that Germany actually sucks, it would make it somewhat angry or unsettled somehow. How you react to this depends upon a myriad of things, but that there is a reaction is undoubted, I believe.

Notice that this conflict for you is not the same for everybody, the person who says Germany sucks probably believes it (otherwise why say it?). This is why we go to war. Or your god, or your values or perceived purpose in life, is not good enough. This is where disagreements come from.

The only way that the world changes is through conflict, every bit of change at the aggregate level can only happen at the individual level, by individuals talking and conflicting.

There are linguistic markers of this conflict. Read again this passage and circle the words that indicate conflict. Not, But. First sentence second paragraph the but represents the difficulty and different natures of conflict


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