Zanna, M. P., & Cooper J., Dissonance and the Pill: An attribution
approach to studying the arousal properties of dissonance. JPSP, 1974,
This study tested the idea of whether dissonance had arousal properties.
Cognitive dissonance is often experienced as psychological discomfort or
tension. Yet prior research hasn't proven evidence of dissonance-produced
Previous studies by Schachter showed that subjects unknowingly under the
influence of epinephrine could be made to label their arousal as either
angry or happy based on external stimuli. Another study with insomniacs
showed that if they could get subjects to attribute their nocturnal arousal
to a pill, they found it easier to fall asleep (and if they were told it
would make them more relaxed and it didn't work they were even more aroused).
Theoretically, this should also work with attitude change. People who are
put into a cognitive dissonance situation but can attribute their arousal
to another factor (a pill) should be less likely to change their attitudes
than people who don't attribute their arousal to the pill.
Subjects were told to write an essay counter to their beliefs (about free
speech on campus). One third were given a pill and told it would make them
tense, one third told it would make them relaxed, and one-third were not
given a pill at all. In this 2X3 experiment, the other variable was giving
the subjects either high-choice in writing the counteressay (it's up to
you...) or low choice (do this...).
After writing the essay they completed an attitude questionnaire that asked
them about campus speech and their present feelings.
People who were told the drug would make them feel more tense did indicated
they were more tense, and those in the "relaxed" condition felt
more relaxed (vs control). Interestingly, the people in the high-choice
control group reported more tension than either the "tense" or
"relaxed" groups (which is expected by dissonance theory).
The overall results were as expected. For people in the control group,
those in the high choice condition had a bigger attitude change (agree with
the ban on speech) than the low-choice people. They had nothing to attribute
their action on the essay to.
In the "tension" condiition, subjects were able to attribute their
tenseness to the pill and not the essay, so the dissonance effect was realized
and their attitudes didn't change (agreement with the ban was low). On the
contrary, in the "relaxed" condition there was increased cognitive
dissonance (they felt tense rather than relaxed) and their shift in favor
of the ban was more pronounced than with the control group.