The Relationship of Explanatory Flexibility to Explanatory Style

Kent State University, OH 44240, USA.
Behavior Therapy (Impact Factor: 3.69). 01/2008; 38(4):325-32. DOI: 10.1016/j.beth.2006.06.007
Source: PubMed


Traditional cognitive vulnerability-stress models regarding the etiology of depression emphasize the content of the depressed individual's thoughts. One important cognitive content index, explanatory style, represents the habitual way that individuals assign causes to events that occur in their lives. A more contemporary model, however, emphasizes the cognitive process by which these attributions are made and to what extent the individual can make different attributions depending on the particular context of the event. This process is referred to as explanatory flexibility. Given that both indices of causal explanation are derived from the same assessment instrument, the Attributional Style Questionnaire, the current investigation sought to examine the extent to which the two variables can be differentiated from one another. Results indicated that explanatory style (a measure of cognitive content) and explanatory flexibility (a cognitive process measure) are empirically related, but distinct, constructs.

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    • "The goal of explanatory flexibility is to use both pessimistic, as well as optimistic styles, according to the needs of different situations. Though it may make intuitive sense to engage in more optimistic styles, the most effective outcomes are achieved through a more flexible use of explanations (Silverman and Peterson, 1993; Moore and Fresco, 2007). Thus explanatory flexibility means that one varies the causal attribution between positive (optimistic explanatory style) and negative (pessimistic explanatory style) depending on the match between the 'reality' of the situation and use of explanatory style. "
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    ABSTRACT: This study examined how explanatory flexibility and explanatory style, two indices derived from the Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ), were related to each other and to symptoms of depression. At Time 1, seventy-three college students completed the ASQ and a self-report measure of depression, and at Time 2, ap- proximately eight weeks later, completed the depression measure once again as well as a self-report measure of negative life events. Explanatory flexibility demon- strated relative independence from explanatory style. Additionally, explanatory flexibility, but not explanatory style, interacted with negative life events to predict change in depression symptoms such that rigidity was associated with higher levels of depression in the face of negative life events. These findings add to research sug- gesting that explanatory flexibility is distinct from, but related to, explanatory style and that both constructs add to our understanding of depression.
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