Cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort we feel when we encounter information that conflicts with our beliefs or actions, can cause real physical strain.
Recent research has found that this mental distress can lead to increased pressure on the neck and lower back during lifting and lowering tasks.
Unpacking Cognitive Dissonance
When you believe one thing, but your actions don’t align with that belief, you experience cognitive dissonance. This mental tension can cause you to feel uncomfortable or anxious.
New research now suggests that this psychological stress can also cause physical strain on your body, particularly in your neck and lower back.
The Research Experiment
A study conducted at The Ohio State University had participants perform precision lowering tasks in a lab setting. Initially, researchers told the participants they were doing well.
However, when the feedback changed to indicate poor performance, the participants’ movements resulted in increased load on their neck and lower back vertebrae.
The extent of this spinal loading was directly related to the level of cognitive dissonance experienced by the participants.
This finding indicates cognitive dissonance might be a previously unidentified risk factor for neck and low back pain, potentially impacting workplace risk prevention strategies.
Uncovering the Mind-Body Connection
William Marras, executive director of the Spine Research Institute at The Ohio State University, spearheaded this research. His lab has been studying the impact of daily living and occupational forces on the spine for decades.
Previous studies had already identified that psychological stress could influence spine biomechanics.
However, this new research took a different approach by focusing on cognitive dissonance. The study involved 17 participants who completed three phases of an experiment.
After providing positive feedback initially, researchers progressively suggested that the participants were performing poorly.
The participants’ cognitive dissonance scores were calculated based on changes in blood pressure and heart rate variability, along with questionnaire responses.
The higher the cognitive dissonance score, the greater the spinal load during the experiment.
The Implications for Workplace Safety
The research findings suggest that cognitive dissonance could have significant implications for workplace safety.
As Marras explained, “This increased spine loading occurred under just one condition with a fairly light load—you can imagine what this would be like with more complex tasks or higher loads.”
Further research into cognitive dissonance and its impact on physical strain could lead to new strategies to prevent workplace injuries and disorders.
For now, Marras is conducting a multi-institution clinical trial to evaluate different treatments for low back pain.
The Role of Cognitive Dissonance in Physical Health
This study’s findings show that cognitive dissonance is more than just a psychological phenomenon. It can have real, physical effects on our health.
Understanding the interplay between mental and physical health could help improve treatment strategies for various disorders and improve overall wellbeing.
As Marras puts it, “Just like the whole system has got to be right for a car to run correctly, we’re learning that that’s the way it is with the spine.”
If you care about pain, please read studies that 1 in 3 people with chronic pain turn to marijuana, and powerlifting is an effective exercise for chronic low back pain.
For more information about wellness, please see recent studies that Krill oil could improve muscle health in older people, and eating yogurt linked to lower frailty in older people.
The study was published in Ergonomics.
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