Cognitive dissonance and psychotherapy: The role of effort justification in inducing weight loss

Danny Axsom, Joel Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


The role of effort justification in psychotherapy was examined. It was hypothesized that the effort involved in therapy, plus the conscious decision to undergo that effort, leads to positive therapeutic changes through the reduction of cognitive dissonance. An experiment was conducted in which overweight subjects attempted to lose weight through one of two forms of "effort therapy". These therapies were bogus in that they were based solely on the expenditure of effort on a series of cognitive tasks that were unrelated to any existing techniques or theory addressing weight loss. One of the therapies called for a high degree of effort while the degree of effort in the second therapy was low. A no-treatment control group was also included. It was predicted that greater weight loss would occur for high-effort than low-effort or control subjects, and that this weight loss would be maintained or increased over time. Results supported these predictions. Over an initial 3-week period, high-effort subjects lost slightly more weight than low-effort subjects or controls. A 6-month follow-up revealed that the effects of effort on weight loss had increased and were highly significant. Reliable differences remained even 1 year after the initial experimental sessions. Possible mechanisms mediating the dissonance effect were discussed, as were several alternative explanations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-160
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1985

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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