Peter Clemerson

Doctor of Philosophy, (Psychology)
Study Completed: 2017
College of Humanities & Social Sciences


Thesis Title
On the Origin of Cognitive Dissonance

Read article at Massey Research Online: MRO icon

Cognitive dissonance is the name given to the feeling of puzzlement or discomfort we experience when confronted with contradictory information. The discomfort triggers actions to resolve the contradiction. This psychological attribute is usually assumed to be a product of Darwinian natural selection, though no supporting evidence for this assumption currently exists. As part of Mr Clemerson's research, a prediction was made that the processes of natural selection have produced a bias in our sensitivity to contradictions according to their adaptive relevance. He found that resolving contradictions pertaining to survival, reproduction and reputation was more important than resolving non-adaptive contradictions. In experiments involving several hundred participants, adaptive contradictions were detected to a greater degree with a high level of statistical significance than non-adaptive contradictions. His experimental demonstration of the predicted bias constitutes both a new discovery and the first evidence for a Darwinian explanation for the existence of cognitive dissonance.

Dr Stephen Hill
Associate Professor Andy Towers