Abstract from a paper just submitted:
Going to the dentist is a culturally mandated yet deeply unpleasant experience. Dental Pain Management Theory (DPMT) postulates that the pain associated with dental procedures induces a state of cognitive dissonance (conflict between cultural norms and an individual desire to avoid pain), which in turn creates anxiety. The Dental Salience (DS) hypothesis states that people try to buffer the potential for dental anxiety by rejecting cultural worldviews and diminishing their sense of self-importance. A meta-analysis compiled several hundred independent effect sizes from DS experiments that compared the effects of thinking about dental pain versus thinking about something that is nearly as unpleasant but inevitable regardless of either cultural mandates or individual action (i.e., death). On average DS yielded a medium effect size across a range of subject populations and settings. Moderators included self-esteem and whether the dentist had a socially nonconforming haircut. Results are discussed in relation to alternative explanations of DPMT.