Think about your heart: The Effects of Cognitive Dissonance on cardiovascular functioning

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The Ohio State University

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Cognitive dissonance (CD) occurs when an individual’s attitudes are inconsistent with his/her behavior, and can result in emotional distress. Individuals may regulate and reduce this emotional distress by changing their attitudes to match behaviors. Individuals with higher resting heart rate variability (HRV), a marker of overall health, have been shown to better regulate and control negative emotions. Thus, the following investigation sought to examine the relationship between cognitive dissonance, emotional distress, HRV, and other physiological indicators of health. HRV data were collected using an electrocardiogram (EKG) from 81 participants during a baseline evaluation, randomized CD induction of high or low choice, and recovery. In the low choice group, individuals were instructed to write a counter-attitudinal essay and therefore, attribute feelings of dissonance to experimenter demands. In the high choice condition, while urging them to comply, individuals were told that it is optional to write the counter-attitudinal essay; here, participants are motivated to change their attitudes to match behavior due to their compliance. I hypothesized that (1) The high choice group would be more likely to change their attitudes following the essay in comparison to the low choice group; (2) baseline HRV would predict attitude change following dissonance, especially in the high choice condition; (3) measures of arousal (e.g. self-reported mood, blood pressure) would be elevated in the high choice group in comparison to the low choice group. Results partially supported these hypotheses, showing that resting HRV does predict attitude change in both experimental conditions. Implication and future directions are discussed.



psychophysiology, emotion regulation, cognitive dissonance, heart rate variability