Recent research suggests that encountering conflicting information or actions, known as cognitive dissonance, can contribute to increased pressure on the neck and low back during lifting and lowering tasks. In a study, participants who were initially informed of their good performance in a precision lowering experiment but later received negative feedback exhibited movements that led to greater loads on the vertebrae in their neck and low back. The extent of loading on the upper and lower parts of the spine correlated with the participants’ cognitive dissonance scores. The findings imply that cognitive dissonance could be a previously unrecognized risk factor for neck and low back pain, highlighting the potential implications for workplace risk prevention. The study, conducted by the Spine Research Institute at The Ohio State University, was recently published in the journal Ergonomics.

For decades, the Spine Research Institute, led by senior author William Marras, has been investigating the impact of daily living and occupational forces on the spine. Previous research conducted by Marras revealed that psychological stress can affect spine biomechanics. In a study conducted about 20 years ago, participants who experienced psychosocial stress exhibited up to a 35% increase in spine loads. Under such stress, individuals tend to co-activate muscles in their torso, creating tension and strain.

In the current study, the researchers aimed to explore the mind-body connection by examining the influence of cognitive dissonance on spine loading during lifting tasks. Seventeen participants (nine men and eight women aged 19-44) completed three phases of an experiment involving placing a lightweight box within a square on a moving surface. The researchers provided predominantly positive feedback during the first trial block and increasingly negative feedback during the second block. To measure cognitive dissonance, changes in blood pressure, heart rate variability, and responses to questionnaires assessing discomfort levels and affect were combined. Wearable sensors and motion-capture technology were used to detect peak spinal loads, including compression and shear, in the neck and low back.

The statistical analysis demonstrated that, on average, peak spinal loads on the cervical vertebrae in the neck were 11.1% higher in compression, 9.4% higher in anterior-posterior shear, and 19.3% higher in lateral shear during the trial block with negative feedback compared to the baseline measures. Peak loading in the lumbar region of the low back, which bears the brunt of spinal loading, increased by 1.7% in compression and 2.2% in shear during the final trial block.

Marras explained that the motivation behind the study was to investigate whether cognitive dissonance affects not only the low back but also the neck, as previous research had focused on the former. The findings revealed a significant response in the neck. He emphasized the importance of shear loading and its potential implications for those engaging in lifting tasks regularly, as continuous exposure to even small increases in load could lead to disorders.

The Spine Research Institute is conducting a multi-institution clinical trial investigating various treatments for low back pain, including medication, exercise, and cognitive behavioral therapy. The aim is to unravel the complex factors influencing spine disorders and identify causal pathways. By acknowledging the role of cognitive dissonance in spine loading, the researchers hope to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of spine disorders and their treatment. The study received support from internal Spine Research Institute funds, and the co-authors included Eric Weston, Afton Hassett, Safdar Khan, and Tristan Weaver.


Source: Science Daily