Cognitive Dissonance and the Scotoma of Violence

It’s important for me to understand violence and what assaults actually look like. Since I don’t particularly want to find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a knife wielding attacker on a recurring basis, I find it less life threatening to watch many hours of video footage of violent crimes. While watching video footage, something I find interesting is the people and bystanders who walk past a violent encounter as its occurring. They seem to not recognize what is happening.  I have seen gun and knife attacks and while the chaos is happening a few feet away the bystander will continue to stand in the bank teller line waiting for their turn.  This also happens with the victim who will visually see the man in the black hoodie enter the room with his face covered, draw a gun from his waist band and the victim will sit still and not respond.  The problem is that the brain is experiencing a cognitive dissonance.

For our usage; cognitive dissonance is the mental stress experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs or ideas; when confronted with new information that contradicts one of the beliefs. In order to relive the dissonance the brain will ignore one in favor of the more desirable ideas.

This means that the normal expected experience of reality (standing in line at the bank) is in opposition and contrast of being a victim of a robbery.  The robbery is not supposed to be happening, thus the person has two versions of reality being shared at that moment and it will take the brain some time to sort out the truth of the situation. Unfortunately these few moments of confusion are the most important in terms of self protection.  In our scenario the victim might have seen the assailant walk in the bank wearing a black hoodie but mentally there was a Scotoma, a visual blind spot.  The assailant was within the victim’s field of vision but the brain decided to filter that information out of consciousness. The brain receives an overwhelming amount of information, most of which is filtered out of one’s consciousness. Imagine remembering the numbers on every single automobile license plate while driving to work.  With that much data coming in it wouldn’t take long to reach a breaking point of insanity. In order to function, the mind has a filter to keep out unimportant information. While our victim visually sees the robber the brain filtered out the information because it did not match with the expected reality of the situation and the information was deemed unnecessary. There was a dissonance or conflicting information and the data was removed.  Often even as more confirmation is received the person simply doesn’t want to believe what is happening.   They say” ignorance is bliss” but in a violent encounter ignorance can cost you your life.  The sooner you can recognize a threat the more time you have to respond.  Within a violent event time line the closer to the initiation point your reaction is the more effective it is.  If someone was clairvoyant and new the bank robbery was going to happen the most effective response would be to stay at home. However I am not all knowing and all seeing, so the next best response would be to see the assailant and make an exit out of the vicinity at that point of event initiation.  In most cases the longer you wait the more danger you are in. as self protectors and protectors of others like our family we need to train to recognize threats and react to them as quickly as possible.

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