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Motivated Reasoning

“Aha” Moments: Buds of Beauty and Brilliance

Epiphanies are rare but powerful events.

Key points

  • A primary goal of any psychologist is to help people to move away from an ineffective status quo.
  • Motivated reasoning reinforces the client’s safety zone or status quo, which can become immune to change.
  • An epiphany has the influence to magnify importance by its foreign nature of being out of the norm.

An epiphany is a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of something that is very important to you. Really effective counselling emanates from sessions that nurture and encourage these powerful atypical moments.

One of the primary goals of any psychologist is to help people to move away from a status quo they have identified as not working. A status quo metaphor would be the proverbial water taking the same pathway running down the hill. These pathways, no pun intended, can become entrenched and immutable over time.

Motivated Reasoning

Judith Curry wrote in the Sociology of Science December 28, 2017 issue: “motivated reasoning involves someone reasoning that they can re-interpret reality in a way that fits what they desire, their ideology, etc.” Motivated reasoning reinforces the client’s safety zone or status quo, which can become immune to change. Clients can maintain their dysfunctional behavior vis-à-vis their motivated reasoning. This pattern of behavior then reinforces part of a fictitious reality that supports distortion and illusion. The end result for the client is a sophisticated inner dialogue of self-deception, which is perpetually reinforced when new information, contrary to the established inner dialogue, arises.


Unlike motivated reasoning, which follows a reinforcement schedule, an epiphany appears to be more accidental, unexpected, unforeseen, a chance experience. Epiphanies are rare but powerful events. An epiphany has the influence to magnify importance by its foreign nature of being out of the norm. As one client stated: “Wow! Where did that come from?”

Epiphanies are not planned. They are not reinforced. They come from an unknown place at a non-predetermined time. They shock and awe. They are powerful moments of self-discovery, which have long-lasting effects.

How can psychologists create an environment whereby more epiphanies will occur for their clients? Are there procedures that lead to increasing the potential of clients experiencing epiphanies?

Let’s consider cognitive dissonance (CD), which is defined as the psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously. This discomfort includes any new information that is contradictory to one’s current conscious beliefs. Cognitive dissonance is the very concept that kicks in when motivated reasoning is summoned. Discomforts are managed through personal manipulation in an attempt to maintain one’s personal view of the status quo and their resistance to change. Psychologists need to consider strategies to limit motivated reasoning.

The Inner Dialogue

The antithesis of motivated reasoning involves encouraging clients to avoid any attempts to re-interpret reality. The client would agree to self-monitor their inner dialogue of the status quo, which may be circumventing new information or ideas that at first appear contradictory. Clients need encouragement toward self-discovery by being less self-protective, and by trusting their counsellor to suggest alternative views of seeing themselves and their reality. Potentially, the client would come to realize that the counsellor’s primary role is to facilitate the client’s personal insight and growth.

Through this process, the client is challenged to become less guarded, biased, self-protective, defensive, safe, manipulative, and re-interpretive. Through adherence to monitoring preconceived ideas the client can become more receptive to the unforeseen, unexpected elements of the epiphany.

“Aha” Moments

Self-discovery has often been identified as the “aha” moment. This is a moment when the obvious gives way to the oblivious. The epiphany materializes from the ether. It rises from the ashes of premeditated thoughts and conclusions to share a new and previously unrelated internal awareness.

D. Rock and J. Davis in their Harvard Business Review article “4 Steps to Having More Aha Moments” state: “In short, anything that helps you be able to notice quiet signals in the brain, or weak activations as they are called, can increase the chances of insight. By practicing leaving space for quiet, being internally focused, taking a positive approach, and not actively trying to have insight, we can all have more insights every day. More insights equates to solving complex problems faster, and that’s something we could all benefit from, whether we want to tweak a marketing campaign, solve a client challenge, or change the world.”

As psychologists, are we encouraging “weak activations”? Is there a greater potential for epiphanies and growth when the client is less self-protected by motivated reasoning? Can we create an environment where epiphany is more likely to take place? Epiphany appears to rely on the availability of “space for quiet” and an absence of predetermined ideas within the receiver. In the modern world of social media, and multiple hours spent on screens, this concept has even more relevance. Are you having any buds of beauty and brilliance? Any epiphanies?


Cambridge English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, 4th edition. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Curry, Judith. JC’s (un)motivated reasoning. Sociology of Science, December 28, 2017.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. February 10, 2019.

Harvard Business Review. 4 Steps to Having More “Aha” Moments, October 12, 2016

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