The mind-body connection is continuing to take us by surprise. Recent research has found that being under stress immediately impacts the body and its’ performance, even down to the spine.
A team of researchers from Ohio State University tested what happens to the body during lifting when working through information that is contrary to what the participants believed. This type of mental stress is related to the effects of working through cognitive dissonance, which is the phenomenon that occurs when people have to think about things which don’t match what they believe or is in conflict with behaviors they exhibit.
This sounds like a large concept, but cognitive dissonance can be easily understood with one of the examples the researchers put the test. They had participants perform lifting and lowering a box in the lab while measuring effects on their necks and lower backs. At first, they told the participants they were doing a great job—then they told the participants that they were doing much more poorly. After being told information contrary to what they believed by the previous statements of the research team, this created conflict and mental stress. The participants were encountering cognitive dissonance.
The work load on the neck and lower back increased instantly after cognitive dissonance was experienced, and it increased in proportion to the amount of cognitive dissonance they felt. This built upon studies which found mental stress impacted the way the spine moved in which they found that having an argument in front of the participants caused an increase in spinal load by up to 35% in some participants.
This time, researchers used current technology to use sensors worn on the body and motion-capture technology to track the compression of the spine and the movement side to side (also known as shear) and the movements from front to back. After negative feedback was given to participants, the neck load increased up to 19.3% in side-to-side shear. The lower back compression increased by 1.7% in vertebral compression and 2.2% in side-to-side shear.
This experiment shines a light on just how important your thoughts can be and how quickly the negative ones impact your body. Despite the participants being healthy and aged between 19 and 44 years old, physical prowess did not exclude the participants from the effects of negative thinking. It’s a great reason to make sure that when you’re weightlifting, you’re thinking positively; but an even greater reminder to make sure you think positively even when not exercising, even if the face of information that goes against what you’ve been told or understand as true.
Eric B. Weston, Afton L. Hassett, Safdar N. Khan, Tristan E. Weaver, William S. Marras. Cognitive dissonance increases spine loading in the neck and low back. Ergonomics, 2023; 1 DOI: 10.1080/00140139.2023.2186323