The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 19 No. 3 • April 2016

Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance SUCH AS When the Government Makes You Say Things You Don’t Believe

There are many examples of government forcing people to say things they don’t agree with, such as the FDA requiring that you include warnings on your product with which you disagree. What might be the consequences to those having to lie to comply with government force? For example, if you sold Flush Pune Juice,™ the FDA would likely try to force you to say that your product was not for treating constipation.

This is an area of scientific research that has been studied for a long time. The famous Leon Festinger (whose paper on cognitive dissonance is considered a classic in the field of psychology (Festinger, 1957)), also published a paper in 1959 with James M. Carlsmith (Festinger and Carlsmith, 1959) on the cognitive consequences of forced compliance.

This paper explored what might happen when people had to say things that were in conflict with their private opinion. Two earlier papers by the same authors (Janis and King, 1954; King and Janis, 1956) showed that “if a person is forced to improvise a speech supporting a point of view with which he disagrees, his private opinion moves toward the position advocated in the speech. The observed opinion change is greater than for persons who only hear the speech or for persons who read a prepared speech with emphasis solely on elocution and manner of delivery.”

Festinger and Carlsmith analyzed an earlier paper that had found that when an individual was forced to say something that was opposite to that which he actually believed, the greater the promised reward for saying this falsehood or threatened punishment for not saying this falsehood, the less subsequent opinion change toward that falsehood took place, which was the opposite to what the author of the paper had expected. In their analysis, Festinger and Carlsmith suggest that “the magnitude of dissonance is maximal if these promised rewards or threatened punishments were just barely sufficient to induce the person to say [the falsehood]. From this point on, as the promised rewards or threatened punishment become larger, the magnitude of dissonance becomes smaller.” (Festinger and Carlsmith, 1959).

They continue: “One way in which the dissonance can be reduced is for the person to change his private opinion so as to bring it into correspondence with what he has said.” They suggest that “...the observed opinion change should be greatest when the pressure used to elicit the overt behavior is just sufficient to [induce them] to do it.”

This, then, is a view of what might happen inside the mind of someone who is coerced into making false statements by the threat of a punishment (as with the FDA). Surprisingly, it might be that, consistently with the results of the experiments carried out by and reported in Festinger and Carlsmith, 1959, that the lies end up being incorporated to some extent into a modified opinion that is more consistent with the lies and, hence, reduces the dissonance resulting from having made false statements.


  • Festinger. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, Ill: Row, Peterson, 1957.
  • Festinger L, Carlsmith Jm. Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. J Abnorm Psychol. 58(2):203-10 (1959 Mar).
  • Janis and King. The influence of role-playing on opinion change. J Abnorm Soc Psychol. 49:211-8 (1954).
  • King and Janis. Comparison of the effectiveness of improvised versus non-improvised role-playing in producing opinion changes. Hum Relat. 9:177-86 (1956).

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