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An Experimental Investigation of Cognitive Defusion

Abstract

The current study compared cognitive defusion with other strategies in reducing the impact of experimentally induced negative emotional states. Sixty-seven undergraduates were assigned to one of three conditions (cognitive defusion, thought suppression, or control) and instructed in standardized approaches relevant to each condition before viewing film clips intended to elicit fear, sadness, and disgust. Participants then rated their experience of each emotion and completed a Stroop task intended to indirectly measure emotional arousal. While participants did not show any differences in their experience of emotions through self-report, significant differences on the Stroop task provided evidence of varying degrees of arousal between participants using defusion, suppression, and control strategies, with thought suppression and defusion showing the greatest reduction in arousal. These findings were retained after controlling for individual differences in negative affect and suggest that defusion is an effective strategy for reducing emotional distress but raise questions about the specific mechanisms involved in the process.

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Correspondence to Brian C. Pilecki.

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Pilecki, B.C., McKay, D. An Experimental Investigation of Cognitive Defusion. Psychol Rec 62, 19–40 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03395784

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Key words

  • cognitive defusion
  • acceptance and commitment therapy
  • thought suppression
  • emotional distress
  • clinical psychology