The effect of cognitive dissonance on the perception of cold-pressor pain

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William C. Goggin

Advisor Department



The present study extended previous research on the relationship between cognitive dissonance and pain through an examination of the effects of an interpersonal cognitive dissonance paradigm on the perception of cold-pressor pain. Participants were 114 college students ranging in age from 18 to 49 years. All participants were exposed to the cold-pressor task, and then asked to write to a participant in another room, telling them that the task was pleasant and not painful. Some participants were given extra research credit for engaging in this activity (low-dissonance), and the remainder were given no extra credit (high-dissonance). The consequence of this action was manipulated to be either negative or non-negative, based on feedback about whether the "other participant" was convinced by the dissonant statements. After repetition of the cold-pressor task, participants completed the McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ), as well as numerical rating scales of pain, pain unpleasantness, pain intensity, willingness to participate again, and willingness to refer a friend to participate. Pain threshold and tolerance times were also recorded during both exposures to the cold-pressor task. It was hypothesized that when compared to the low-dissonance condition, participants in the high-dissonance condition would report lower levels of pain, pain unpleasantness, and pain intensity; and higher levels of pain threshold, pain tolerance, willingness to participate again, and willingness to refer a friend to participate. Results showed that cognitive dissonance influenced scores on the MPQ in the predicted direction, with participants in the high-dissonance condition providing significantly lower ratings on this multidimensional measure of pain, than did participants in the low-dissonance condition. No other significant differences were found on the other variables that were assessed. Exploratory analyses revealed no significant effects of Consequence, which in combination with the significant finding on the MPQ, failed to support the claim that a negative consequence was necessary to produce a dissonance effect. Possible explanations are offered for the discrepancies between the findings of the present study, and previous studies of cognitive dissonance and pain. The implications of the present findings, limitations of the present investigation, and suggestions for future studies on cognitive dissonance and pain are discussed.