Cognitive Dissonance



I Just Paid $600 for This LP – Is That Too Much?

Don, who wrote us the following letter, applauds us for being able to convince our customers to pay forty times the going rate for some of the records we sell — and like it!

The subject line of Don’s letter is Music.

What a great example of free market capitalism at it’s [sic] finest. Your web site is truly a unique example of marketing. You’ve taken a medium that [sic] completely relative and you can convince someone to pay upwards of 40X the going rate because….well, you said so. That doesn’t mean that the record will sound the same to them or that their experience of music is the same as yours as a reviewer. I guess if someone decides to spend $600 on a record they damn well better find a reason why it’s worth it even if they’re not completely convinced. (I took the time to read some of the other comments on your site.)

Don’t understand why someone would be upset about that or how they could argue that the records aren’t worth the price. They’re worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them as I see it. Maybe because they didn’t think of it first or they have some misplaced sense of ethics….who knows. I know it’s not worth it to me and thankfully there are plenty of other resources available for buying music. Another great example of capitalism…..


Don L.

Don, honestly, I’m positively blushing at the thought that my “say so” is what gets people to pay the ridiculously high prices we charge for what appear to be fairly common rock records, the kind that might be worth roughly, oh, I don’t know, 1/40th of what we are asking? (Truth be told, probably even less.)

Ah, but here’s the kicker: there’s actually a scientific explanation for it!

It’s called Cognitive Dissonance, and it works like this. Let’s say someone decides to spend $600 on a record — sound familiar? — yet for some reason they’re not completely convinced it’s worth it — ring any bells? — so they find a way to justify the purchase to themselves by rationalizing one of two things: their actions or their perceptions.

In this case, although the actual record may not sound all that good when they get it home, because it costs so much they must find a way to make it somehow seem better than it really is. Failing to do so, this person, demonstrably $600 poorer, would have to conclude that he, like an idiot, has just let himself get ripped off, in this case by us.

Twisted Logic

The logic at work here is pretty straightforward. The buyer says to himself: I am not an idiot. Only an idiot would pay $600 for a record that doesn’t sound amazingly good, especially one that can easily be had for one-fortieth the amount of money I have paid, therefore the record must sound better than my ears tell me it does.

Which — let’s be honest here — may in fact be happening. I don’t know what these records sound like in my customer’s homes. How could I? They live all over the world. I have certainly taken some of my best sounding pressings with me while visiting customers, and they sure sounded good on their systems. But I can’t vouch for systems I have never heard and people I have never met. That would be silly.

You Are Correct Sir

You are certainly correct in pointing out that musical values are relative. The famous Latin proverb “De gustibus non est disputandum”, roughly translated “There’s no accounting for taste.” is one with which I am very familiar. (When somebody pays $600 for The Hunter on vinyl you don’t have to tell me there’s no accounting for taste.)

As a skeptic I require evidence for what I believe in order to believe it. Although it’s certainly possible that our customers are willing to pay our admittedly high prices on nothing more than our say so, I see no evidence that this is in fact the case. All things being equal I think they must really like our records. They tell us so all the time, and they keep buying them week after week, so if they really are just fooling themselves, they apparently can’t stop doing it.

Occam’s Razor

The scientist’s and skeptic’s best friend, Occam’s razor, comes into play here. It holds that “the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible.” It’s often paraphrased as “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.” In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions …”

Why assume people who buy expensive records are crazy? Why assume that the records they buy aren’t every bit as good as advertised, if not better? Why assume that the “other resources available for buying music” are even remotely as good, absent any evidence? People assumed that the CD was going to be a cheap and easy resource for their music, and look where that got them.

Assumptions? Us?

I could go on for days about assumptions. We try very hard to make as few as we have to around here. We bend over backwards to let the pressings speak for themselves. Most of the time when we’re doing our little shootouts we have no idea what pressing is on the table. All we know is what it sounds like.

It may be relative — everything is — but people seem to be able to replicate our findings in their own homes pretty well. Well enough anyway. When they talk to us on the phone or write us they really don’t sound all that crazy. In fact they seem fairly rational to us. More than anything they seem to be enthusiastic about the great sound they’re finally hearing on a favorite album of theirs, courtesy of Better Records. After having played the records ourselves, we don’t think it’s the least bit crazy to believe them.

The assumptions we really do take issue with are these:

  • Carefully remastered records pressed on heavy vinyl and marketed to audiophiles typically sound better than mass-produced records sold to the public at large.
  • Original pressings sound better than later pressings
  • Records that look the same should sound the same.
  • Buying audiophile pressings guarantees better sound.
  • Buying audiophile equipment guarantees better sound.

I could go on for days about silly assumptions that are easily disproved by playing a representative sample of the records in question. As there are hundreds of commentaries on the site to that effect already, I simply implore the reader to find them and make use of them.

Call it capitalism. Call it marketing. Call it anything you like. We call it Finding and Selling Better Records. That gets to the heart of the matter pretty well we think.

Thanks for your letter.

Regards, TP


The well-known Aesop’s fable of The Fox and the Grapes is yet another case of cognitive dissonance that bears on Don’s letter. Here the part of the fox is played by Don.

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked, ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’

People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

We would hasten to point out that this story is not truly descriptive of Don’s situation. Don can find his own Hot Stampers if he chooses to, and we tell everyone exactly how to go about it in a commentary we called Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success. Then he would know from experience just how much work it takes to find the best sounding copies of the albums we offer on our site.


A testimonial from one of our customers arrived the same day that Don’s letter did. With a little faith, an open mind and $125, the customer in question acquired a much better sounding copy of a favorite Beatles album. I think there is very little chance that Don will ever play a copy of the White Album that sounds like our customer’s, and that’s a shame.

$125 may seem like a lot of money to pay for a record, but if you’d heard it you might think otherwise. This is why we offer a money back guarantee. Take a chance — open your mind to the possibility we know what we are doing, you might be pleasantly surprised. If you aren’t happy you get your money back. Far from being cognitively dissonant, we guarantee you will be cognitively satisfied, one way or the other. All it takes is an open mind. (And legal tender of course.)

Wikipedia Entry for Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term describing the uncomfortable tension that may result from having two conflicting thoughts (cognition) at the same time or engaging in behavior that conflicts with one’s beliefs.In simple terms, it can be the filtering of information that conflicts with what one already believes, in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce one’s beliefs. In detailed terms, it is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, where “cognition” is defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior.

The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions. Experiments have attempted to quantify this hypothetical drive. Some of these have examined how beliefs often change to match behavior when beliefs and behavior are in conflict.

In popular usage, it can be associated with the tendency for people to resist information that they don’t want to think about, because if they did it would create cognitive dissonance, and perhaps require them to act in ways that depart from their comfortable habits. They usually have at least partial awareness of the information, without having moved to full acceptance of it, and are thus in a state of denial about it.