Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Lucian Gideon Conway, III

Commitee Members

Allen Szalda-Petree, Bryan Cochran, Nicole McCray, Steve Yoshimura


The University of Montana


Torture is commonly perceived as fundamentally wrong, yet sometimes justified. To examine these competing perceptions within a cognitive dissonance theory framework, participants were primed with either (1) a gray spectrum visual cue designed to produce a more flexible, nuanced mindset, (2) a black and white visual cue designed to elicit a dichotomous mindset, or (3) not primed in a control condition. Participants (N= 226) evaluated a torture scenario involving a terrorist perpetrator. Scenarios also varied in the degree of personal closeness to victims in the crisis. Contrary to expectations, participants primed with a gray spectrum cue were not significantly more likely to support torture or perceive the terrorist perpetrator in the scenario more positively compared to a control; participants primed with a black and white cue did not show less torture support or perceive the terrorist more negatively compared to a control. Also contrary to expectations, cognitive dissonance did not mediate expected effects of priming type and personal closeness on torture support and terrorist perceptions. However, findings did indicate that participants who evaluated a crisis describing a loved one in imminent danger were more likely to support torture and perceive the terrorist more negatively compared to those who considered a crisis that described a threat to unknown persons. Additional analyses also revealed some unexpected results concerning how psychological dissonance influenced participants' evaluations of the crisis scenario. These unexpected findings provide some potential avenues for future research to further understand how people perceive torture and terrorists.



© Copyright 2015 Shannon Houck