CogDisIt’s not often that psychology terms come up in the IT environment. But it appears even computer users could benefit from an understanding of Cognitive Dissonance –

“the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”

Having knowledge of a subject, and then consciously making detrimental choices is part of being an average human. Eating, smoking, drinking, and relationships are fertile grounds for Cognitive Dissonance. Let’s examine a few technology examples that may also pertain to some of us.

Data Backups

Most of us would agree that (at least some of) our digitized data is important, and that we don’t want to lose it. We would also acknowledge that mechanical equipment tends to break at some point, and that our data lives on a mechanical device. Our behavior, however, typically doesn’t reflect this chain of beliefs because we rarely make the effort to actually back up our important data.

Cognitive Dissonance assures us that our hardware won’t fail, not before giving us ample warning and time to copy off out important data. Most backup-believers have become so because they have lost data at some point.

Malware Avoidance

Almost all computer users have at least a rudimentary understanding of what Malware (Malicious Software) is and does. Often because they have experienced it firsthand. As part of the Malware Sweep service I perform multiple times a week for my clients, I include recommendations that will help them to avoid being victimized again. There are a few simple steps that will dramatically minimize a PC’s exposure to Malware infection. The basics are:

  1. Download software from a reputable source
  2. Pay attention during installation to avoid Crapware
  3. Don’t install any of those ‘Speed Up My PC’ apps
  4. Don’t install any ‘Driver Update’ apps
  5. Don’t fall for ‘Your PC Needs Support’ scams
  6. Don’t open attachments that look suspicious
  7. Don’t install apps that have notorious vulnerabilities
  8. Use sensible passwords – And write them down!
  9. Install and use an antivirus program
  10. Don’t use a free antivirus program

Despite the obvious and rational common-sense warnings, Cognitive Dissonance gives many computer users the confidence they need to just ‘wing it’.


Passwords are a wonderful example of Cognitive Dissonance. While data security is entirely dependent on a strong password, there’s ample evidence that many people still choose to protect their data, communications, banking information, and Ashley Madison cheat/dating accounts with passwords like 123456, password, and qwerty.

While many of us can recall being advised to avoid writing our passwords down, that ship has sailed, hit a reef, and burst into flames. The conventional wisdom for this century is “Write Your Passwords Down!”. For each account, computer login, email service, etc., write them down, and choose a strong password.

Cognitive Dissonance convinces us that our own weakly-protected accounts are secure, since we’re employing a proven ‘safety-in-numbers’ approach that we learned about on a National Geographic program.


The ‘Badge-of-Honor’ days of boasting about knowing nothing about computers is way over. Take a bit of time to learn where the ‘Start’ button, ‘Task Bar’, and ‘Desktop’ live on your Windows computer. Figure out how to navigate your way to the ‘Control Panel’. Learn the difference between ‘WebMail’ and an email client, like Thunderbird, Outlook, or Windows Mail.

Getting these basics down goes a long way towards understanding what you’re actually doing on your computer, and turns those phone conversations with Tech-Support into a learning opportunity. The more you learn what things are called, the easier it is to learn more.

Even experienced tech’s don’t know all the answers. But it’s Computer Science, not Rocket Science. Google those nagging questions your subconscious is asking. (Use Google, not Bing!) It’s mush better to research the following questions than it is to find out the hard way.

Looking something you don’t know about in the Internet is a great way to learn. Don’t say computers are too hard, and that you can’t do it. If you can pilot a 3,000 pound vehicle down I-25 at 70 miles an hour in heavy traffic while talking on your cellphone, you can likely figure out a desktop appliance, if you really wanted to.

Cognitive Dissonance teaches you to ‘believe what you think’. And some people find it easier to defend an illogical position than to admit it’s incorrect, and learn something new. But you’re not one of those people. Now get busy and back up those files!

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