Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance


Among the defining characteristics of Sagittarius's, if you believe in that sort of stuff, is an almost unflinching loyalty and honesty. In that respect, I'm astrologically accurate. 

The honesty, well, hopefully that's reflected in this blog. The loyalty manifests itself in my reaction to my Dana-Farber team. I feel protective, proud and proprietary about them; I celebrate their successes when I see they are talking at a conference or authoring a paper. And my ear is attuned to the slightest slight I might hear. Some of this is a natural cognitive reaction -- what consumer behaviors call postpurchase cognitive dissonance theory. That theory, if I remember my marketing theory classes, says that when you make a purchase, let's say a car, you unconsciously seek out positive information about the car you bought and avoid negative information that would create dissonance. You've created a world view in your head that the car you bought was the right choice and your mind looks to reaffirm your choice - to create consonance and avoid dissonance.

Now, the downside to cognitive dissonance is that the more important the decision, the more powerful the effect, and therefore, the harder it is to recognize when you've made a bad decision. If you've spent $500 for a lemon of a car, that's easier to come to grips with than if you spent $50,000 for a luxury lemon. 

And on the scale of important life decisions, choosing an oncologist would seem to sit slightly higher than buying a refrigerator or a car, which means the theory of "postpurchase" dissonance would only apply more. If I'm trusting my cancer care to someone, I'm going to be even more motivated (consciously or unconsciously) to reaffirming that I've made a good choice. And as my care extends from months to years, and I develop a stronger relationship with my team - I can only imagine that the combination of my natural loyalty and cognitive dissonance will make me fiercely defensive of my team. 

I'll need to rely on family and friends to keep me rationally honest and objective. But in the meantime, don't be saying anything bad about Dr. LaCasce.