How do people make decisions? Especially the difficult ones? Why do we make bad decisions from time to time? These are loaded questions but there has to be some reasoning for them right? It can be especially astonishing when you look back on your own decisions or the decisions of another and think, how could I or (they) have thought that it would have been a good idea? This reasoning seems to be justification. We justify decisions prior to and after to make ourselves “ok” with following through or reflecting on why we have made a particular decision. I am going to take a closer look at how justification works.
Many decisions in life cause a feeling of dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is defined as conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors (McLeod, 2014). In the cognitive dissonance theory we have a drive to keep our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in harmony and avoid dissonance (Festinger, 1957). Imagine you are accepted to the college that you have dreamed to get into for years…but there is a catch. It means you have to move over a thousand miles away from the girl or guy you have been together and in love with for a couple years now. This will probably cause ALOT of dissonance. In weighing these decisions there is good and bad outcomes of each but the real issue is that you cannot have the good outcomes of both situations. There are many situations like this that you have to choose or decide. Another example would be a person to stop drinking alcohol because they were recently arrested for a D.U.I. The good outcome of quitting would not be getting into any more trouble because of alcohol but wouldn’t get the good outcomes of continuing to drink such as feeling relaxed and feeling a part of with friends. The issue is you cannot have both good outcomes of choices. This is where the idea of justification comes into play in making decisions.
One other idea to consider before getting to justification is the role that emotions play in decision making. A lot of emotions come into play in decisions expected, immediate, and incidental emotions can all become involved (Goldstein, 2011). (Goldstein, 2011) also notes that people tend to overestimate what their negative feelings about a decision will be. This is linked to that people do not take into consideration the different coping mechanisms they use to deal with adversity (Goldstein, 2011). This is where people begin to use justification. Justification is defined as an acceptable reason that a person finds to do something (Webster, 2008). (McLeod, 2008) reports that to do this we either change our attitudes or beliefs, acquire new information, or reduce the importance of certain beliefs or attitudes. Going back to the two prior examples maybe a person would say “if my boy/girlfriend really loved me they would move across the country to be with me” or in the drinking example one might say “I wasn’t that drunk and the cop made up a reason to pull me over”.
Both of those examples are using justifications the first is changing attitudes because even though you know the girl or guy loves you it a big decisions to let some of your goals to the side to stay in a relationship. The drinking one is reducing the importance because it is deflecting responsibility onto the cop not looking at the idea that it is dangerous to operate a vehicle under the influence. These coping mechanisms such as justification seem to be built into us. How do we avoid justification?
The first step is to become aware you are doing so (this often requires help from an outside source) then identify why you are trying to justify a given belief, attitude or behavior. Is it self preservation, pleasure, or pride etc. that is keeping you to continue using it? I think a major key is getting feedback or thoughts on big decisions we are going to need to make and becoming educated. A pro’s and con’s list can sometimes help in the decision making process. There is many things that can help reduce justification but awareness is key. Although they help I do not think justification in decision making is going anywhere soon.