Value Dissonance

Jonathan Crossland

8 December 2023

I thought it practical to outline my theory through observation and self-reflection for Cognitive Dissonance Theory (CDT) from a values perspective. I do this as it may provoke more thought in the layman and show my cards, warts and all, to those with knowledge. Since my work with AMMERSE is primarily based around values, it would be amiss to omit CDT completely, but rather the contrary, to provide some thought into it. There are fundamental theories to go through to get a complete image of value dissonance, and we should start with words we think we understand. Words in everyday use have common meanings, colloquial aspects and academic definitions. The layman uses the standard meaning, and the academic sets themselves apart by further defining the concept. I like to think if terms (sic) of structuralism, layered definitions and relationships to other things, including what it is not. We shall meander through the spectrum of ideas in free-flowing form. Let us start with belief and behaviour.

Belief is the conviction of understanding that the concept, whatever that is, is truth. Belief does not fret over whether it is subjective or objective truth; it is true to the agent. “I believe in exercise” or “I believe in fairies” could be no less true to the believer. Belief is a position that is taken, a supposition. Behaviours are something that demonstrates one or more beliefs. Someone may exercise frequently, believing exercise to be worthwhile. Someone may place food at the end of the garden for the fairies. There is no telling of the brain and chemistry about what is sanity and what is not.

Bertrand Russell writes of belief:

“Since erroneous beliefs are often held just as strongly as true beliefs, it becomes a difficult question how they are to be distinguished from true beliefs. How are we to know that in a given case, that our belief is not erroneous?”

Belief is a cornerstone of behaviour, but society plays a significant role in shaping this. The cultural eyes determine behaviours to be in or out of the norm. In Japan, Kanamara Matsuri, known as the “Festival of the Steel Phallus”, has people walking the streets with effigies of the penis and even eating penis-shaped candy. The community very much holds the eyes of what is normal or acceptable. So the food for the fairies at the end of the garden is no more or less sane than someone running in the road at 5 am to keep fit or the celebration of the penis.

A belief can drive behaviours, but why do people believe certain propositions and not others? Why does the Christian not believe in Buddhist beliefs? Why do different religions discount the other? Is this purely societal constructs? If someone is born in India, the chance of them being a Scientologist is much lower than if you are born in the USA or California. This certainly shows in the data. While belief can be tied to regions, villages and so on, the modern age, has spread ideas which have caught on and spread with trade routes and, recently, with the internet. The new age of fast ideas has made beliefs much more free-flowing and challenging to trace.
Underneath the beliefs is the idea that we are susceptible to specific ideas and may accept certain beliefs based on prior beliefs. It may be easier for someone already deep into exercise to get into related ideas of biology, diet and routine. Someone who does not believe in exercise could be more resistant to these related beliefs or even more susceptible. A “value” is something you value, which may or may not be tied to a belief, although they are complicated to pull apart in many cases. It is common to believe that values underpin behaviour, as do beliefs, and that values and beliefs are tightly intertwined. It is common to confuse the two or think of them as synonyms. Values are, however, distinct from belief as a concept. You may believe fairies exist, but that does not suggest personal value bias. It may be open-mindedness just as much as hopeful or chemically induced delusion or fantasy. You may value equality, but it may not be tied to any belief. You may believe that people are equal or not, persecuted or not. However, this is not to say that there are no relationships, as many interconnected relationships exist in a complex set of values and beliefs. If you value equality, you may want the fairies to have the same rights as you and the android, resembling a human and behaving equivalently. Your desire for equality may introduce you to a biased view of the world, where everything is unequal and unfair. Your value of equality could be a value or a value tied to a belief, where the belief may be objective or subjective.

For this, I return to Bertrand Russell:

“Thus a belief is true when there is a corresponding fact, and is false, when there is no corresponding fact.”

What is clear is that your values affect your behaviours; your values affect your beliefs; your beliefs affect your behaviour, and they feed each other in a complex feedback loop. One belief can create more ideas, which extend the original belief. A group of positive feedback looped values can magnify your actions. This is all independent of truth or falsehood.

When faced with truths or falsehoods, we must face or ignore them with various cognitive and emotional intelligence levels to do this. Do we accept or question the truth and over how long a period or with how much resistance? We have to satisfy our current beliefs.
In behavioural science, many theories touch on combinations of beliefs and behaviours, where theories exist of addressing emotions, beliefs or repetitive behaviours. Whether top-down, bottom-up or combinatory, we believe people will change based on values, beliefs and behaviour modifications. This is playing on the different aspects of cognition. If your theory is behaviours modify beliefs, then you will have actions to complete in the hope it embeds itself somehow into your “cognitive system”. If your theory is based on what you value, therapy to understand the root cause of your values and beliefs is necessary to give you insights into your “system”, hoping that a “realisation” will impact a behaviour change. None of this is simple and all based on various beliefs and values by the holders of the theories. Take Shalom Schwartz, whose theory of fundamental human values is categorised by his lens of beliefs and values within geography, with his community and societal norms. How would a devout religious Muslim create and categorise values compared to others?

Through the theory of Cognitive Dissonance by Leon Festinger, we can view truth and falsehoods against values and beliefs at the point of change. Will you accept and change your view based on truths? To exist in a state of knowing truth and not applying it to your belief system or believing despite evidence or a form of cognitive dissonance. This is where we get to dissonance as a general theory and can dive more specifically into the value dissonance theory.

Consider that Jane lives in a parallel universe where she grew up in a society where equality was the foremost value. She was taught from an early age, “share with your brother”. She was taught in school, where they had to wait in line, in a fair ordering system, where the order was chosen, not at random, but for equality of opportunity. Every person was treated with the same language and the same judgements. If Jane failed her exam, everyone would fail. She grew up and went to work where everyone earned the same; there were no leaders, managers, or hierarchy. Equality was equal, and everything was so.
She became a teacher where she had to teach children the ways of equality but realised that she was not equal to the children she taught. They did not yet understand simple things, and she had to teach them. Did that make her superior? Is she superior in knowledge? What of position? Should they listen to her? Could she have lunch with other teachers or spend it with the children?
One day, a child did a wonderful drawing. It was nothing like the others; it was superb. Could she say it was better than the others? She decided not to. She lied and said it was as wonderful as all the other drawings and did not stand out in any way. The child smiled and was happy that her drawing was equal to her peers.

Jane's story clearly shows value dissonance, but I hope it also shows that what you value is always a tradeoff. It does not have a neat boundary but interacts with other values, and choices are made. To be genuinely focused on equality leads to unfairness, obscuring the truth and perpetuating falsehoods. If you add the value of honesty to equality, you are in a state of value dissonance, where you must bring equilibrium to the values, where they settle to a state of limited conflict, or at least a situation you can live with. Values relate to other values. If we subscribe to systems thinking, we could see values as having either a negative or positive feedback loop to every other value we hold. In AMMERSE, there is the concept of a feedback loop and the “action potential” notion of AMMERSE weights, where the relationship is stronger or weaker, acts or is inert, depending on what is going on. At the time of writing, no scientific evidence examines two or more values to measure or ascertain the relationships. There is no claim of evidence between values, dissonance and systems thinking. AMMERSE is only a “lens” to view values with. Dissonance is a concept, as is understanding that we have values with various levels of certainty or emphasis. Let me explain.

AMMERSE takes the seven aggregate values of Agile, Minimal, Maintainable, Environmental, Reachable, Solvable and Extensible and asks you to map personal values into these broad containers. The value dissonance is when you want to Reach quickly, but you need to Solve more problems than you have time or budget. Dependent on the weight to assign to each of these values, you may not be able to ignore the dissonance. Distance will exist if John is about solving problems and his boss is about the budget and time frame. How we deal with this dissonance is essential. If John holds Solvable at a weight of 1.0 instead of 0.2, he may find it unbearable to compromise or happy to do so. If we understand our values, the value dissonance in our minds, and as they exist with other people, we can get a better sense of understanding and a language to discuss it. John can tell his boss that his Solvable value is high and that Reachable needs to change. Likewise, the boss could clarify what needs to be Reached and what hopefully should be reached and a compromise could be facilitated. But I want to get back to what dissonance means rather than discuss how AMMERSE can help.

As values drive behaviour, dissonance in values also drives behaviours, and they can be spread. If you are not careful, the wrong or unintentional behaviours can result. Consider Jane's world, where she decides one day that she cannot lie anymore. The more she thinks about truth and honesty, the more she is convinced that she cannot continue to lie about equality. The following day, she approaches the young artist and tells her that her drawing was by far the best and she should continue to be inspired to draw. The young girl's values are now also in value dissonance. She contemplates how it felt to be told she was better at drawing than her peers. She is confused as to what to feel. She feels happy yet conflicted. Her value of equality has been breached. She must either question equality, accept the compliment, or not question equality and reject the compliment. She should perhaps also believe that her teacher has broken the sacred value of equality. Emotions play a role here as conflict, confusion, happiness and doubt, perhaps even fear, set in. The more you consider what has occurred, the more you realise how dire the situation for your well-being may be. Can you survive the dissonance or the resolution?

We are all value-oriented calculators that feverishly adjust to our inputs in a state as it moves and respond to settle somewhere, temporarily. Perhaps this is the yearning some feel, the sense of loss, or anxiety that some people have. The more you think, the more you have to cognitively settle your value system, perhaps even without actively knowing it is being conducted. After all, we know that we acclimatise. There are cases in history where value dissonance eventually settles, where people move from one value state to another, sometimes to terrible consequences such as adopting the values of a cult. It is by no account isolated to cults, and forms of it exist in organisations and societies at all levels throughout history.

Values are the ones to concentrate on rather than beliefs because we easily compartmentalise beliefs. When at work, you dont share all your beliefs. You may work with someone of an opposing faith, and when you speak, you remove the belief or reduce the weight of the belief in favour of the weight of other beliefs so that you can get along. Getting along to complete a task for your employer is a more valuable thing to do at this moment, so you create a shared safe space and understanding, subconsciously, in which to operate. Humanity does this all the time. We create safe spaces for different people. Values held independently from beliefs, especially those not agreed on between the two parties, are easier to speak about in that constructed space. Even in the constructed space, where you won't speak about religious beliefs, you will discuss values like respect and honesty.
Moreover, you can agree on more values because they are more widely shared across cultures and are more “universal”. Belief is also a game of true and false, while values are a game of tradeoffs. With belief removed, values are more easily validated as true or false.

In his book, The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris says this more eloquently:

“there must be a science of morality … because the well-being of conscious creatures depends upon how the universe is, altogether"

In this spirit, the ideas of values (in our case, without moral judgement) could be analysed and, through science, be determined to have more or less utility. It is in the utility of values that I am most interested. We all know lying is wrong until you probe more profoundly and realise it's more of a heuristic based on context. On proper inspection, lying is not moralistic. Who would judge you when you lie to save your black friend by saying you have no idea where he is, to the 1950s South African apartheid policeman? Who would question your morals when you don’t reveal the location of your Jewish friend to the Nazi officer? Should a father beat his child for lying? What about sternly reprimand? Let us look at values with a scientific mindset and say that the value of honesty is something we are concerned with. Still, we understand that situations arise where honesty is as essential as dishonesty. Let us not be a slave to beliefs and hold values to a single measure but allow values to be changed dependent on the circumstances.

AMMERSE is based on the idea that we can change the weights of values to our context, convey the weights to others and agree on what is essential in a given context. AMMERSE understands that values are more accessible to communicate and discuss. It knows that dissonance exists and that we must resolve dissonance internally and with others. It understands that values held are temporal and change in weight over time, collaborate and relate to each other in complex feedback loops of dissonance. It allows us to continue constructing safe spaces for collaboration and brings value-oriented discussions into that space that relate to how we collaborate on tasks towards organisational goals. AMMERSE deliberately excludes morality as that is a different belief system and brings in other forms of dissonance, instead focusing on organisational work with a universal value system.

Thank you for reading this. If you got to the end, you are indeed a kindred spirit. For those scanned down here for the “punchline”, here it is.

Beliefs and values can exist independently. Beliefs revolve around truth and falsehood, whereas values involve navigating complex trade-offs. We continually adjust the importance of different values as we engage with ourselves and the world. The AMMERSE framework allows for open discussions about our value systems and goals in business. This approach facilitates collaboration based on shared values, fostering a deeper understanding of what truly matters to us and our organisations. This article explored beliefs, values and behaviours and the homeostasis we ultimately need to function.


The theory of cognitive dissonance was initially put forward by Leon Festinger when he first published A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957).

There are many theories put forward surrounding dissonance and reasons for or against the idea, such as behaving in a manner that threatens one’s sense of moral and adaptive integrity (Steele, 1988; Steele, Spencer, & Lynch, 1993), self-consistency interpretation (Aronson, 1968, 1992) or (Chen & Risen, 2010) with experiments.
This URL discusses various points around CDT.

Chris Park, Lancaster University

The role of demographic factors on religious beliefs: Evidence from five countries
Walton Wider, Jem Cloyd M. Tanucan, Xiaole Wu, Christine Mutua, Nicholas Tze Ping Pang, Gabriel Hoh Teck Ling, Charoline Cheisviyanny

The Relation Between Human Values and Perceived Situation Characteristics in Everyday Life
Rebekka Kesberg Johannes Keller

The problems with Philosophy, Bertrand Russel

The Moral Landscape, How science can determine human values. Sam Harris

An Introduction to Cognitive
Dissonance Theory and an Overview of Current
Perspectives on the Theory Eddie Harmon-Jones and Judson Mills

Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of
the self. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 21,
pp. 261–302). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Aronson, E. (1968). Dissonance theory: Progress and problems. In R. P. Abelson,
E. Aronson, W. J. McGuire, T. M. Newcomb, M. J. Rosenberg, & P. H. Tannenbaum
(Eds.), Theories of cognitive consistency: A sourcebook (pp. 5–27). Chicago, IL: Rand

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