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Cognitive Defusion Versus Cognitive Restructuring in the Treatment of Negative Self-Referential Thoughts: An Investigation of Process and Outcome

Authors:
  • Illawarra Anxiety Clinic

Abstract

Within traditional cognitive therapy, cognitive restructuring is often used to challenge the veracity of dysfunctional thoughts. In contrast, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) uses “cognitive defusion” techniques to change the function of negative thoughts rather than modify their content. Previous research has shown that a cognitive defusion technique known as the “milk exercise” (rapidly repeating a self-referential, one-word thought such as “fat”) reduces the discomfort and believability associated with negative thoughts. This study sought to replicate and extend these findings by comparing the impact of cognitive defusion with that of cognitive restructuring in a sample of participants distressed by negative thoughts about their body shape. Participants received a detailed rationale and training followed by instructions to practice the assigned technique as homework for 1 week. Results indicated that both cognitive techniques produced substantial improvements that generalized well beyond the specific thoughts targeted for treatment. Clear dif- ferences in treatment process and the course of improvement were evident. Findings are discussed in the context of theoretical and practical similarities and differences between these two approaches.
Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly
Volume 25, Number 3 • 2011
218
© 2011 Springer Publishing Company
DOI: 10.1891/0889-8391.25.3.218
Cognitive Defusion Versus Cognitive
Restructuring in the Treatment of
Negative Self-Referential Thoughts:
An Investigation of Process and Outcome
Brett J. Deacon, PhD
Tamer I. Fawzy, PhD
James J. Lickel, PhD
University of Wyoming, Laramie
Kate B. Wolitzky-Taylor, PhD
University of Texas-Austin
Within traditional cognitive therapy, cognitive restructuring is often used to challenge the veracity
of dysfunctional thoughts. In contrast, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) uses “cognitive
defusion” techniques to change the function of negative thoughts rather than modify their content.
Previous research has shown that a cognitive defusion technique known as the “milk exercise”
(rapidly repeating a self-referential, one-word thought such as “fat”) reduces the discomfort and
believability associated with negative thoughts. This study sought to replicate and extend these
findings by comparing the impact of cognitive defusion with that of cognitive restructuring in a
sample of participants distressed by negative thoughts about their body shape. Participants received
a detailed rationale and training followed by instructions to practice the assigned technique as
homework for 1 week. Results indicated that both cognitive techniques produced substantial
improvements that generalized well beyond the specific thoughts targeted for treatment. Clear dif-
ferences in treatment process and the course of improvement were evident. Findings are discussed in
the context of theoretical and practical similarities and differences between these two approaches.
Keywords: cognitive therapy; cognitive restructuring; acceptance and commitment therapy;
cognitive defusion
Cognitive models of psychopathology (e.g., Beck, 1976) posit that dysfunctional cognitions
directly contribute to negative emotions. Accordingly, a common technique in traditional
cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is cognitive restructuring, in which the therapist and
patient collaboratively identify irrational or maladaptive thoughts and challenge their veracity
using strategies such as logical disputation, Socratic questioning, and behavioral experiments
(Hofmann & Asmundson, 2008). The goal of this process is to encourage patients to think in
more accurate and adaptive ways, which facilitate effective problem solving and living a more sat-
isfying life (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979).
Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly
25
3
2011
© 2011 Springer Publishing Company
10.1891/0889-8391.25.3
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
219Cognitive Defusion vs. Restructuring
CBT is a highly effective treatment for a wide range of mental disorders (Butler, Chapman,
Forman, & Beck, 2006). CBT consists of various techniques, however, and the specific contribution
of cognitive restructuring to the overall efficacy of CBT has recently come under scrutiny. In their
review of treatment studies for anxiety and depression, Longmore and Worrell (2007) concluded
that cognitive interventions do not consistently provide added value to behavioral interventions.
Cognitive restructuring has also been criticized on theoretical grounds by proponents of mind-
fulness and acceptance-based approaches such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT;
Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999). For example, Eifert and Forsyth (2005) characterize the pro-
cess of challenging dysfunctional thoughts as engaging patients in an attempt to “master” and
“control” their thoughts. These authors suggest that cognitive restructuring aims to “teach clients
to become better suppressors and avoiders of their unwanted thoughts” (p. 39), thereby arming
them with a potentially unworkable strategy to avoid experiencing negative emotions.
Cognitive therapists have vigorously disputed the notion that cognitive restructuring encour-
ages the suppression and avoidance of negative thoughts and emphasize the contradiction be-
tween the negative depiction of cognitive restructuring by ACT proponents and the observation
that cognitive therapy is “the most clearly established effective psychotherapy that exists” (Leahy,
2008, p. 149). Nevertheless, a cardinal feature of “third wave” approaches (Hayes, 2004) is their
marked departure from traditional CBT approaches toward negative thoughts. Rather than
directly challenge the content (e.g., accuracy) of negative thoughts, these methods emphasize
changing the function of thoughts by encouraging patients to adopt a different awareness of
and relationship to thoughts (Segal, Teasdale, & Williams, 2004). Various “cognitive defusion”
techniques teach patients to see the “bad thought as a thought, no more, no less” (Hayes et al.,
1999, p. 20) and to refrain from trying to change thought content or responding to dysfunctional
thoughts with experiential avoidance. This approach is designed to circumvent the struggle to
more effectively regulate negative emotions by abandoning the agenda of emotion regulation
itself (Eifert & Forsyth, 2005).
One of the many cognitive defusion techniques in ACT consists of having the patient rapidly
speak a negative self-referential word (e.g., “fat”) until the word appears to lose its literal mean-
ing. Known as the “milk exercise, this technique was first studied by experimental psychologists a
century ago (Severance & Washburn, 1907) and was a frequent topic of investigation in the mid-
1900s under the label “semantic satiation” (Amster, 1964; Esposito & Pelton, 1971). Numerous
studies demonstrated that continuous, fast verbal repetition of a word produced a temporary
decrease or loss in the word’s meaning (e.g., Lambert & Jakobovits, 1960).
Masuda, Hayes, Sackett, and Twohig (2004) conducted a preliminary investigation of this
technique’s potential as a clinically active procedure. An unselected sample of eight undergrad-
uate students generated two self-relevant negative thoughts and reduced them to a single word
(e.g., fat). Participants received an ACT cognitive defusion rationale and practiced repeating one
of the one-word thoughts, out loud and as quickly as possible, for 30 seconds. Using an alternating
treatments design, this defusion exercise reduced the discomfort and believability associated with
negative thoughts more than comparison distraction and thought suppression interventions.
As noted by the authors, these encouraging findings warrant additional research on the clinical
utility of this technique.
Two subsequent studies by Masuda and colleagues have further examined the effects of this
cognitive defusion technique. Masuda et al. (2009) examined the effects of varying the length of
word repetition on the emotional discomfort and believability of one-word negative thoughts.
Using an unselected undergraduate sample, the authors found that decreases in emotional
discomfort decreased significantly within 3–10 seconds but that 20–30 seconds of repetition
was more effective than 3–10 seconds for reducing believability. Using between-groups design,
Masuda et al. (2010) compared the effectiveness of the cognitive defusion exercise reported in
Masuda et al. (2004) to a thought distraction and non-thought distraction control condition.
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
220 Deacon et al.
As hypothesized, the milk exercise was superior to the control interventions in reducing the
believability and emotional discomfort associated with negative self-referential thoughts.
The results of Masuda et al. (2004, 2009, 2010), combined with the promising efficacy of
ACT-based approaches more generally (Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, & Lillis, 2006), raise the
possibility that cognitive defusion techniques may have considerable clinical utility. However,
numerous unanswered questions remain regarding the effectiveness of the cognitive defusion
technique studied by Masuda and colleagues. In each study, the distress and believability of neg-
ative thoughts were assessed immediately following the cognitive defusion technique. As such, all
measures in these studies were collected within a 5–10-minute period. Although consistent with
the semantic satiation literature in demonstrating an immediate decrement in the meaning of
the satiated word, the more clinically relevant issue of whether changes in the distress and believ-
ability of dysfunctional thoughts persist in the longer term is unknown. In addition, Masuda and
colleagues did not examine whether the beneficial effects of semantic satiation extend beyond
the repeated word itself. For this technique to be clinically useful, it should reduce the emotional
impact of the concept the word represents; for example, semantic satiation to the word fat should
generalize to thoughts synonymous with fat. Next, because the thought distraction and thought
suppression comparison groups used by Masuda et al. (2004, 2010) were intended simply as con-
trol conditions, it is unclear how this defusion technique compares to credible, active alternative
interventions designed to target negative thoughts. Lastly, owing to their use of an unselected
sample of participants, it remains to be shown that this technique is useful among individuals
with more distressing self-relevant thoughts.
This study was conducted to replicate and extend the work of Masuda et al. (2004, 2009, 2010)
on the potential clinical utility of semantic satiation for reducing the impact of negative self-refer-
ential thoughts. We attempted to replicate the beneficial short-term effects of this cognitive defusion
technique on the distress and believability of negative thoughts. We sought to extend the findings
of Masuda and colleagues by examining its longer-term effectiveness and the generalizability of its
effects in a clinical analogue sample of individuals with highly distressing self-referential thoughts.
We also conducted the first known comparison of cognitive defusion to an active and credible alter-
native condition: cognitive restructuring. Participants were randomly assigned to receive a rationale
and training in either cognitive defusion or cognitive restructuring and to practice the assigned
technique on a daily basis as homework for 1 week. Despite the analog nature of this study, our
design represents an attempt to approximate the manner in which these techniques might be intro-
duced, practiced, and assigned as homework in routine clinical practice.
We hypothesized that both cognitive defusion and cognitive restructuring would produce
significant improvement in the distress and believability associated with negative self-referential
thoughts. The extent to which these improvements would be evident in body image concerns
more generally, both immediately following the rationale and training and following the home-
work week, was also explored. Consistent with the findings of Masuda et al. (2004, 2009, 2010),
we hypothesized that the benefits of cognitive defusion would be apparent immediately following
the rationale and training. We explored the extent to which practice of this technique during the
homework week conveyed additional improvement. Because cognitive restructuring is thought to
be an acquired skill whose benefits accrue after repeated real-world practice, we hypothesized that
the beneficial effects of restructuring would be significantly less than those of cognitive defusion
following the rationale and training but that this intervention would be associated with efficacy
comparable to that of cognitive defusion following the homework week.
In addition to these outcome-based hypotheses, we expected group differences in the pro-
cess of improvement. Because both cognitive defusion and cognitive restructuring aim to reduce
the believability of negative thoughts, we hypothesized that decreased believability of negative
self-referential thoughts would significantly predict a decrease in the distress elicited by these
thoughts in each treatment condition. Based on the centrality of acceptance (Hayes et al., 2006) as
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
221Cognitive Defusion vs. Restructuring
a key process underlying improvement in ACT, we hypothesized that a decrease in the perceived
importance of not having negative self-referential thoughts (i.e., increased acceptance of negative
thoughts) would significantly predict improvement among those receiving cognitive defusion.
In contrast, we expected that this process would not predict improvement among individuals re-
ceiving cognitive restructuring who were engaged in efforts to directly challenge and modify their
negative thoughts.
Me t h o d s
Participants
Introductory psychology students at a midsized Western university completed a questionnaire
packet for course credit that included the 14-item Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ; Dowson &
Henderson, 2001). From an initial pool of 478 women, we identified 95 with scores higher than
the mean of 60 as reported by Dowson and Henderson (2001) for women with eating disorders
and a history of self-induced vomiting. Twenty-six individuals responded to e-mail solicita-
tions and volunteered to participate in this study. The mean age was 19.4 years (SD 5 2.1) and
23 individuals (88.5%) described themselves as White. The average participant reported weighing
71.1 kg (SD 5 17.7) and standing 166.6 cm (SD 5 6.1) tall, and had a body mass index (BMI) at
the lower end of the overweight range (M 5 25.3, SD 5 4.7).
Experimental Design
Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: cognitive defusion (n 5 13) or
cognitive restructuring (n 5 13). During an initial 90-minute session, participants received a de-
tailed rationale and training in the assigned cognitive technique and instructions to practice the
technique as homework on a daily basis for the upcoming week. Participants returned to the lab-
oratory for an assessment-only session following the homework week. Outcome assessments were
obtained at prerationale (Session 1), postrationale (Session 1), and post-homework (Session 2).
Measures
Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ). We sought to recruit an analogue sample of participants
who were distressed by a self-referential thought easily pared down to a single word. Toward this
end, we administered the 14-item BSQ (Cooper, Taylor, Cooper, & Fairburn, 1987; Dowson &
Henderson, 2001), a measure of distress and preoccupation with one’s body weight and shape, to
identify individuals likely distressed by the one-word thought, fat. BSQ items are answered based
on how respondents have felt about their appearance over the past 2 weeks (example item: “Have
you felt ashamed of your body?”). For the post-homework assessment, participants answered
based on the past week. Responses to each item are provided on a 6-point Likert scale; total scores
range from 14 to 84. The 14-item BSQ has excellent internal consistency (a 5 .93) and good con-
vergent validity with measures of cognitions, behaviors, and symptoms associated with anorexia
and bulimia (Dowson & Henderson, 2001). The BSQ’s internal consistency at the prerationale
and post-homework assessments was excellent (both a’s 5 .95). In this study, BSQ scores de-
clined significantly during the 2–4-week interval from the initial screening (M 5 71.8; SD 5 7.5)
to the first study assessment (M 5 58.2; SD 5 13.1), t (25) 5 7.19, p , .001. Despite this apparent
regression to the mean, BSQ scores at the prerationale assessment closely approximated the eating
disorder patient norms reported by Dowson and Henderson (2001).
Mirror Task. Participants accompanied the experimenter into a small, windowless room in
the laboratory containing a 51 3 122 cm full-length mirror. Individuals were instructed to ex-
amine their fully clothed bodies in the mirror while carefully considering their body shape and
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
222 Deacon et al.
paying particular attention to “bothersome” body parts. The experimenter set a small electronic
alarm to go off in 2 minutes, closed the door, and left the room. Participants had the option to
lock the door from the inside.
After shutting off the alarm, participants remained in the room and provided ratings of
distress and degree of satisfaction with their body shape. Distress was assessed with the question
“How uncomfortable were you while looking at yourself in the mirror?” and was answered on a
0–100 visual analog scale (VAS) with responses anchored between not at all uncomfortable and
very uncomfortable. Body satisfaction was evaluated with the item “How satisfied are you with your
body right now?” and was rated on a 100-point VAS with responses anchored between not at all
satisfied and very satisfied. All other study procedures occurred in an adjacent, windowless room.
Ratings of the Thought of Being Fat. Participants provided three separate ratings associated
with the thought of being fat. Distress was assessed through responses to the question, “How
uncomfortable is the thought of being fat right now?” Accuracy was assessed with the question,
“To what extent do you believe this thought accurately describes you?” Note that in contrast to
Masuda et al.’s (2004) use of the term “believability, we use the term accuracy to highlight this
item’s intended purpose of assessing the perceived accuracy or truth of the thought. Finally, the
perceived importance of the thought of being fat was assessed with the item, “How important is it
to you not to have this thought?” Responses were provided on a 100-point VAS anchored between
not at all and very uncomfortable, believable, or important, respectively.
Ratings of Thoughts Synonymous With Fat. Participants were asked to generate three self-
relevant negative thoughts they closely associated with the thought of being fat and to rank each
thought as the first, second, or third synonym based on the strength of its association with fat.
With the experimenter’s assistance, each thought was reduced to the single word that best captured
its essence. The most common one-word thoughts participants generated were “lazy” (n 5 12),
“unattractive” (n 5 10),unhealthy” (n 5 4), and “unhappy” (n 5 3). Using the same procedures
described previously for the thought of being fat, ratings of distress, accuracy, and importance
were obtained for each synonym.
Treatment Credibility and Expectancy. Following the rationale and training for the assigned
cognitive technique, participants rated the technique’s credibility (“How believable or credible
does the rationale behind this technique seem to you?”) and probable effectiveness (“How help-
ful do you think this technique will be to cope with your negative body image thoughts?”). Two
100-point VAS were employed with the anchors not at all believable to very believable and not at
all helpful to very helpful, respectively.
Procedure
Procedures Common to Both Conditions. After providing informed consent, participants com-
pleted the BSQ followed by the mirror task. Participants then provided distress, accuracy, and
importance ratings for the thought of being fat. Next, three self-relevant, one-word thoughts
associated with fat were generated and separately rated for distress, accuracy, and importance.
Participants then received an approximately 15-minute detailed rationale and training on how
to perform the assigned cognitive technique (see subsequent texts). Following the rationale and
training, participants provided ratings of treatment credibility and expectancy, repeated the
mirror task, and, once again, provided distress, accuracy, and importance ratings for the thought
of being fat. At 1-week post-homework assessment session, all study assessments were repeated
and participants were debriefed. This study was approved by the university’s institutional review
board (IRB), and all individuals who received informed consent volunteered to participate.
Cognitive Defusion. This condition closely resembled the cognitive defusion intervention
used by Masuda et al. (2004),1 which was derived from the ACT manual (Hayes et al., 1999).
Participants were informed that the content of their thoughts, per se, does not cause distress.
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
223Cognitive Defusion vs. Restructuring
Rather, despite its advantages, language was said to play an instrumental role in human suffering
by causing people to view their thoughts as literally true. Direct attempts to change the con-
tent of thoughts were described as only increasing their literality and capacity to induce distress.
Accepting the content of one’s thoughts while working to reduce their literality was described as
the most effective method of coping with emotional distress. To demonstrate the effects of cog-
nitive fusion, participants were first asked to repeat the world “milk” once and to notice all of the
images and thoughts that are associated with it (e.g., creamy, white, cold). Milk was then quickly
repeated out loud for 60 seconds, after which, all participants described a decrease in the literal
meaning of the word. The experimenter then suggested that this exercise could be used to defuse
the meaning and emotional impact of negative body image thoughts. Participants repeated the
60-second defusion exercise two more times in the same manner, once for the word fat and again
using the most distressing one-word synonym of fat. Following these practices, all participants
reported that the words became less meaningful and distressing.
Participants were instructed to practice the milk exercise with negative body image thoughts
on a daily basis during the upcoming week. Negative thoughts were to be reduced to a single word
and the defusion technique applied until “the meaning of the word disappears and all that is left
is just a sound.” Each individual was given a supply of forms on which to record the one-word
thought and provide ratings of distress, accuracy, and importance after practicing the technique.
Participants were instructed to carry the forms on their person and complete at least two per day
during or immediately following periods of significant body image distress. If individuals did not
experience body image distress on a given day, they were asked to complete two forms using the
negative body image thoughts they most often experienced.
Cognitive Restructuring. This condition was adapted from an empirically supported CBT
manual for binge eating and bulimia nervosa (Fairburn, Marcus, & Wilson, 1993). Participants were
informed that emotional distress regarding one’s appearance was caused by negative body image
thoughts. Identifying and disputing unrealistic or unhelpful body image thoughts was described
as the most effective method of coping with this distress. Using a recent situation in which the
participant was distressed by the thought of being fat, the experimenter assisted the participant
in challenging this thought by completing a thought record form consisting of the following sec-
tions: (a) situation, (b) negative automatic thought, (c) supporting evidence, (d) disconfirming
evidence, and (e) balanced conclusion. The experimenter coached participants through this
process in an individualized manner, taking into account factors such as the participant’s BMI.
For example, women who were significantly overweight were encouraged to engage in decatastro-
phizing strategies such as generating alternative meanings (e.g., “Being overweight doesn’t mean
I have to be unhappy.”) rather than questioning the objective accuracy of their negative thoughts
about being fat. A list of four “key questions” (e.g., “If my concerns are true, is it really so bad?”)
was provided to help participants evaluate the evidence. Lastly, participants were assisted in gen-
erating a balanced conclusion that could be used to deal with the negative thought in the future
(e.g., “Other people don’t seem to care about the size of my thighs,” and “It is better to accept my
body as it is than to hold myself to an unattainable standard”).
Participants were instructed to practice this “accurate thinking exercise” on a daily basis for the
upcoming week, during, or immediately following periods of significant body image distress. Each
individual was given a supply of thought record forms and was asked to complete at least two forms
per day. If participants did not experience body image distress on a given day, they were instructed
to complete two forms using the negative body image thoughts they most often experienced.
Data Analysis
Improvement in body image concerns was examined using a series of mixed analyses of var-
iance (ANOVAs). Ratings of distress and body satisfaction during the mirror task, and of fat
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
224 Deacon et al.
distress, accuracy, and importance, were obtained at all three study assessment timepoints and
were analyzed using a series of 3 (time: prerationale vs. postrationale vs. post-homework) 3 2
(group: cognitive defusion vs. cognitive restructuring) mixed ANOVAs. BSQ scores and ratings
of distress, accuracy, and importance for the three self-generated synonyms of fat were obtained
at the prerationale and post-homework assessments and were analyzed using a series of 2 (time)
3 2 (group) mixed ANOVAs.
The process of improvement in each treatment condition was explored using hierarchical
linear modeling (HLM; Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002). HLM is useful in analyzing repeated measures
data (Level 1 data) nested within subjects (Level 2 data; Bryk, Raudenbush, & Congdon, 1996).
For these analyses, ratings of the accuracy of the thought of being fat, as well as the importance
of the thought of being fat, were considered measures of treatment process, whereas the distress
rating associated with the thought of being fat was the outcome measure. HLM was used to
examine the extent to which changes in fat accuracy and importance across the three assessment
periods uniquely predicted decline in fat distress for participants in the cognitive defusion and
cognitive restructuring conditions, respectively. For each HLM, fat accuracy and importance were
entered simultaneously as Level 1 predictors of fat distress, with treatment condition entered as
a Level 2 predictor.
We note that the risk of Type I error is inflated in this study because of the large number
of outcomes examined. As recommended by Perneger (1998), results are reported without
Bonferroni correction to avoid inflation of Type II error, given the relatively small sample size
to detect differences among active treatments. We encourage the reader to interpret our find-
ings with this caveat in mind and pay special attention to the effect sizes, which are reported
throughout. Following the recommendations of Cohen (1988), effects of .2, .5, and .8 may be
interpreted as small, medium, and large effects, respectively. Effect size estimates were calcu-
lated in accordance with the recommendations of Morris and DeShon (2002) for indepen-
dent group’s pretest–posttest designs. To measure between-groups effect sizes, we compared
standardized mean differences from pretreatment to posttreatment in each condition using
the formula [(Mpost, CD 2 Mpre, CD) / SDpre, CD] 2 [(Mpost, CR 2 Mpre, CR) / SDpre, CR], where CD 5
cognitive defusion and CR 5 cognitive restructuring. Uncontrolled within-group effect sizes,
computed to characterize the magnitude of change within each treatment condition, were cal-
culated as the difference between pretreatment and posttreatment means divided by the pre-
treatment standard deviation. Uncontrolled effect size estimates should be interpreted with
caution, because they do not take into account the effects of nonspecific influences on improve-
ment, such as the placebo effect and regression to the mean.
Re s u l t s
Baseline Equivalence
To confirm that the randomization procedure resulted in comparable groups, we examined
baseline differences using independent samples of t tests. Participants in the cognitive defu-
sion and cognitive restructuring conditions did not significantly differ with respect to age or
BMI (all ps . .60). Similarly, ratings of treatment credibility and treatment expectancy did
not significantly differ between the groups (both ps . .20). Cognitive defusion received mean
ratings of 71.3 (SD 5 19.5) for credibility and 63.2 (SD 5 22.0) for probable effectiveness.
Cognitive restructuring received mean ratings of 78.1 (SD 5 10.7) and 73.4 (SD 5 24.6) for
credibility and probable effectiveness, respectively. Whereas these differences did not attain
statistical significance, effect size estimates indicate that participants tended to rate cognitive
restructuring as somewhat more credible (d 5 .43) and more likely to be effective (d 5 .44)
than cognitive defusion.
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
225Cognitive Defusion vs. Restructuring
Improvement in Body Image Concerns
A 2 (time) 3 2 (group) mixed ANOVA yielded a significant within-subjects effect of time for the
BSQ, F (1, 24) 5 9.65, p , .01. The time 3 condition interaction was nonsignificant, F (1, 24) 5 0.02,
p . .10, indicating equivalent improvement from the prerationale to post-homework assessments
in both groups. In the cognitive defusion condition, BSQ scores decreased from a mean of 59.2
(SD 5 12.9) to 52.9 (SD 5 14.1), d 5 0.49. In the cognitive restructuring condition, mean BSQ scores
decreased from 57.2 (SD 5 13.7) to 50.2 (SD 5 10.7), d 5 0.50. The controlled (between-groups)
effect size was d 5 0.01. Notably, this improvement in BSQ scores occurred following the significant
reduction in BSQ scores observed from initial screening to the prerationale assessment, suggesting
that both interventions produced effects beyond those attributable to regression artifacts.
Table 1 presents descriptive statistics and results of mixed ANOVAs for outcome measures
obtained at all three study assessments. A significant main effect of time was evident for mirror
task body satisfaction (p , .01), and a trend for significance was evident for mirror task dis-
tress (p , .10). Nonsignificant time 3 condition interactions indicated that the magnitude of
these improvements was comparable across the two conditions. A similar pattern of findings was
obtained for fat distress. For fat accuracy, a significant time 3 condition interaction (p , .05)
was obtained, indicating larger reductions in the perceived accuracy of the thought of being fat
among participants in the cognitive restructuring condition than those in the cognitive defusion
TABLE 1. des c R i p t i v e st a t i s t i c s a n d Be t w e e n -GR o u p co M pa R i s o n s o n ou t c o M e Me a s u R e s a t
pR e R a t i o n a l e , po s t R a t i o n a l e , a n d po s t -ho M e w o R k as s e s s M e n t s
Main Main Time 3
Cognitive Cognitive Effect of Effect of Condition
Defusion Restructuring Time Condition Interaction
Measure M (SD) M (SD) F (2, 48) F (1, 24) F (2, 48)
Mirror distress 2.996 0.83 0.81
Prerationale 46.03 (23.41) 52.98 (25.11)
Postrationale 37.78 (24.92) 45.97 (20.26)
Post-homework 39.21 (26.85) 35.67 (23.18)
Mirror body satisfaction
Prerationale 29.16 (19.70) 35.73 (25.29) 7.25** 1.36 0.80
Postrationale 45.16 (23.15) 38.28 (20.74)
Post-homework 46.90 (25.09) 50.50 (27.03)
“Fat” distress 6.61** 0.53 0.35
Prerationale 77.48 (16.38) 73.57 (20.26)
Postrationale 63.21 (21.23) 62.41 (22.17)
Post-homework 64.08 (25.11) 53.60 (26.38)
“Fat” accuracy 13.96*** 0.64 4.95*
Prerationale 62.22 (11.36) 61.41 (21.19)
Postrationale 48.57 (21.54) 51.92 (24.11)
Post-homework 51.55 (23.98) 32.75 (18.14)
“Fat” importance 0.11 1.45 3.18*
Prerationale 85.36 (19.44) 78.54 (25.12)
Postrationale 79.40 (23.88) 87.84 (14.64)
Post-homework 71.71 (28.32) 90.94 (10.28)
6p , .10. * p , .05. ** p , .01. *** p , .001.
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
226 Deacon et al.
condition. Lastly, fat importance yielded a nonsignificant main effect of time but a significant
time 3 condition interaction (p , .05). Participants in the cognitive defusion condition rated
not having the thought of being fat as less important, whereas those in the cognitive restructuring
condition reported higher importance of not having this thought.
Improvement During the Rationale Phase. Effect size estimates, calculated separately for the
rationale and homework phases, are summarized in Table 2. Participants in the cognitive defu-
sion condition experienced modest improvements in fat importance and mirror task distress,
and larger improvements in mirror body satisfaction, fat distress, and especially, fat accuracy.
Participants in the cognitive restructuring condition reported less improvement in each index of
body image distress, with within-group effect sizes ranging from small (mirror body satisfaction)
to medium (fat distress). Between-group effect size estimates yielded greater improvement in the
cognitive defusion condition on each outcome measure and indicated a substantial advantage of
cognitive defusion over cognitive restructuring regarding fat importance, mirror body satisfac-
tion, and fat accuracy (range in ds 5 0.6820.75).
Improvement During the Homework Phase. Participants in the cognitive defusion condi-
tion experienced little change in body image concerns during the homework phase (range in
ds 5 20.1420.32). In contrast, participants in the cognitive restructuring condition showed
moderate levels of improvement in fat distress and mirror task ratings, as well as large decreases in
fat accuracy. The importance of not having the thought of being fat continued to increase during
the homework phase. Between-group effect sizes substantially favored the cognitive restructuring
condition on all outcome measures (range in ds 5 0.5120.94) with the exception of fat impor-
tance, which was lower in the cognitive defusion group than the cognitive restructuring group.
TABLE 2. wit h i n -GR o u p a n d Be t w e e n -GR o u p ef f e c t si z e es t i M a t e s (d) f o R t h e Ra t i o n a l e a n d
ho M e w o R k ph a s e s
Cognitive Cognitive
Defusion Restructuring
Measure and Phase Within Group d* Within Group d* Between Group d6
Mirror distress
Rationale 0.35 0.28 0.07
Homework 20.06 0.51 20.57
Mirror body satisfaction
Rationale 0.81 0.10 0.71
Homework 0.08 0.59 20.51
“Fat” distress
Rationale 0.87 0.55 0.32
Homework 20.04 0.48 20.52
“Fat” accuracy
Rationale 1.20 0.45 0.75
Homework 20.14 0.80 20.94
“Fat” importance
Rationale 0.31 20.37 0.68
Homework 0.32 20.21 0.53
Note. *Positive values indicate change in the direction of improvement. 6Positive values
indicate greater improvement in the cognitive defusion condition; negative values indicate
greater improvement in the cognitive restructuring condition.
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
227Cognitive Defusion vs. Restructuring
TABLE 3. des c R i p t i v e st at i s t i c s a n d Be t w e e n -GR o u p co M pa R i s o n s o n on e -wo R d th o u G h t s
sy n o n y M o u s wi t h “fa t a t pR e R a t i o n a l e a n d po s t -ho M e w o R k as s e s s M e n t s
Main Main Time 3
Cognitive Cognitive Effect of Effect of Condition
Defusion Restructuring Time Condition Interaction
Measure M (SD) M (SD) F (1, 24) F (1, 24) F (1, 24)
Synonym 1 distress 5.59* 0.63 0.20
Prerationale 72.15 (23.95) 66.00 (30.12)
Post-homework 57.44 (26.26) 49.44 (32.30)
Synonym 1 accuracy
Prerationale 60.00 (23.34) 65.63 (22.69) 16.99*** 0.37 4.29*
Post-homework 49.81 (22.71) 34.93 (23.56)
Synonym 1 importance
Prerationale 84.93 (14.56) 82.75 (22.00) 2.68 0.57 2.19
Post-homework 67.99 (32.14) 81.89 (24.72)
Synonym 2 distress 4.50* 0.76 1.62
Prerationale 68.92 (23.04) 69.73 (23.33)
Post-homework 63.52 (23.46) 48.14 (35.33)
Synonym 2 accuracy 8.61** 0.01 0.43
Prerationale 56.39 (18.49) 59.74 (21.14)
Post-homework 42.25 (26.84) 37.47 (30.74)
Synonym 2 importance 3.416 0.05 0.09
Prerationale 80.71 (14.99) 84.12 (13.73)
Post-homework 70.78 (30.22) 70.29 (30.92)
Synonym 3 distress 4.68* 1.43 0.68
Prerationale 81.02 (12.94) 65.76 (28.95)
Post-homework 61.29 (28.82) 56.95 (32.25)
Synonym 3 accuracy 16.02*** 0.21 0.80
Prerationale 61.29 (21.17) 61.29 (28.95)
Post-homework 45.04 (33.14) 35.67 (33.17)
Synonym 3 importance 4.36* 0.52 0.40
Prerationale 84.37 (17.05) 86.48 (17.07)
Post-homework 69.23 (32.61) 78.35 (27.43)
6p , .10. * p , .05. ** p , .01. *** p , .001.
Generalizability of Improvements to Synonyms of Fat. A series of 2 (time) 3 2 (condition)
mixed ANOVAs were conducted to examine changes in distress, accuracy, and importance asso-
ciated with the three self-generated synonyms of fat. As shown in Table 3, a significant (p , .05)
main effect of time was obtained for the distress and accuracy of each synonym. The time 3 con-
dition interaction was significant only for Synonym 1 accuracy, indicating greater reductions in the
perceived accuracy of negative thoughts in the cognitive restructuring condition compared to the
cognitive defusion condition. Significant main effects of time were also evident on importance for
Synonym 2 and Synonym 3. The absence of a significant time 3 condition interaction for these
variables indicates that, contrary to the results for the thought of being fat, participants in both
groups generally rated negative body image thoughts as less important.
Relation Between Body Mass Index and Improvement. Ten participants (38.5%) had a
BMI at or more than the overweight range ($ 25), including five individuals assigned to each
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
228 Deacon et al.
intervention. To examine whether participants with a higher BMI evidenced less improvement in
body image concerns during the study, Pearson correlations were calculated between continuous
baseline BMI scores and change scores on indices of improvement during the two study phases in
each condition. For participants who received cognitive restructuring, BMI was not significantly
correlated with changes in any index of body image concerns during the rationale phase (range in
rs 5 2.13–.15, all ps . .60) and homework phase (range in rs 5 2.272.24, all ps . .30). For those
in the cognitive defusion condition, BMI was also not significantly correlated with improvement
during the rationale phase (range in rs 5 2.24–.37, all ps . .20). However, a higher BMI was as-
sociated with significantly less improvement during the homework phase for fat distress (r 5 .54,
p , .05), fat believability (r 5 .60, p , .05), and mirror body satisfaction (r 5 .78, p , .01).
Homework Compliance
Participants in the cognitive defusion condition turned in more forms following the week-long
homework phase (M 5 11.1, SD 5 4.1) than those in the cognitive restructuring condition
(M 5 6.8, SD 5 2.2), t (24) 5 3.33, p , .01. At least one homework form for each day of the
homework phase was completed by seven cognitive defusion participants (53.8%) and four cog-
nitive restructuring participants (30.8%). Although the differences did not reach traditional levels
of statistical significance, participants who completed homework forms each day were some-
what more likely, than those who did not, to rate their assigned cognitive technique as credible
(t [24] 5 1.75, p , .10, d 5 0.72) and likely to be effective (t [24] 5 1.64, p , .15, d 5 0.68).
On the other hand, daily completion of homework forms was not significantly associated with
improvement on any outcome variable during the rationale or homework phases (all ps . .10).
Treatment Process
HLM analyses indicated that for participants in the cognitive defusion condition, decreases in fat
accuracy across the three study assessments significantly predicted decreases in fat distress, b 5 0.67,
t (72) 5 7.10, p , .001, after controlling for changes in fat importance. Likewise, decreases in fat im-
portance (i.e., less importance of not having the thought of being fat) uniquely predicted improve-
ment in fat distress, b 5 0.22, t (72) 5 2.78, p , .05, after controlling for changes in fat accuracy.
For participants in the cognitive restructuring condition, decreases in fat accuracy signifi-
cantly predicted decreases in fat distress, b 5 0.47, t (72) 5 2.19, p , .05, after controlling for
changes in fat importance. Fat importance was also a significant, unique predictor of fat distress,
b 5 20.24, t (72) 5 23.58, p , .001. In contrast to results for the cognitive defusion condition,
increases in fat importance (i.e., greater importance of not having the thought of being fat) signif-
icantly predicted improvement in fat distress for participants receiving cognitive restructuring.
The extent to which decreases in fat accuracy uniquely predicted improvement in fat distress
was not significantly different between the cognitive defusion and cognitive restructuring condi-
tions, b 5 0.20, t (72) 5 0.88, p . .30. Consistent with the findings, mentioned previously, a sig-
nificant effect of treatment condition was evident for fat importance, indicating that the extent to
which changes in importance of not having the thought of being fat predicted improvement in fat
distress was significantly different between the two treatments, b 5 0.45, t (72) 5 3.66, p , .001.
di s c u s s i o n
The purpose of this study was to compare the outcome and process of the milk exercise, an ACT
cognitive defusion technique, with cognitive restructuring in a clinical analogue sample of indi-
viduals distressed by negative self-referential thoughts. As hypothesized, both cognitive tech-
niques produced substantial and comparable levels of improvement on measures of body image
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
229Cognitive Defusion vs. Restructuring
concerns among undergraduate women distressed by their body shape. Our findings replicate
the short-term benefits of cognitive defusion reported by Masuda et al. (2004, 2009, 2010) and
suggest that this technique engenders longer term improvements that generalize well beyond the
specific thought targeted for defusion, even for individuals whose self-relevant negative thoughts
are highly distressing. The effectiveness of this cognitive defusion technique is also similar to that
of a credible, alternative active technique for treating negative thoughts.
Despite the comparable improvement observed in cognitive defusion and cognitive restruc-
turing from the pretreatment to post-homework assessments, clear differences in outcomes and
process between these techniques were evident. As hypothesized, defusion produced larger reduc-
tions in body image concerns immediately following the rationale and training. Our findings
suggest that practicing this technique with self-referential negative thoughts in the context of
a cognitive defusion rationale produces immediate and meaningful changes in the emotional
impact of the thoughts and related stimuli. As expected, a cognitive rationale and practice in log-
ical and evidentiary disputation of a dysfunctional thought was associated with less immediate
benefit in this study.
Participants instructed to practice cognitive restructuring on a daily basis reported consid-
erable improvements in body image concerns following the homework week. These findings are
consistent with the notion that the benefits of cognitive restructuring increase with repeated prac-
tice (Beck et al., 1979). Although participants receiving cognitive defusion largely maintained their
improvements following the homework week, there was little apparent benefit of using this tech-
nique to cope with negative thoughts in the natural environment. This was true despite the fact
that cognitive defusion participants completed significantly more homework forms than those
who received cognitive restructuring. Defusion’s relative ineffectiveness in a homework context
may have been caused by participants not implementing the procedure in a functionally correct
manner. For example, despite instructions to the contrary, some individuals may have used this
technique in an attempt to suppress or dispute the veracity of their negative thoughts rather than
accepting and defusing from them. Alternatively, the strong and negative association between
BMI and improvement during the homework phase suggests another possibility: Cognitive defu-
sion may have worked less well when used with thoughts that were perceived to be accurate, such
as the thought “I am fat” for overweight individuals. As noted by Arch and Craske (2008), the
rationale for cognitive defusion does not specify which thoughts to defuse, and the notion that
“thoughts are just thoughts” may be easier to accept for some thoughts than for others. Overall,
these findings are consistent with the proposed value of the milk exercise as a demonstration of
the effects of cognitive defusion (Hayes et al., 1999) but do not support the efficacy of this tech-
nique as a habitual behavioral response as recommended by Hayes and Smith (2005), at least as a
stand-alone procedure implemented outside of a supportive therapeutic context.
Similarities and differences between the cognitive techniques were evident in terms of
treatment process. The cognitive defusion and cognitive restructuring techniques substantially
reduced the perceived accuracy of negative body image-related thoughts. As hypothesized, a de-
crease in the accuracy of the thought of being fat was associated with better outcomes in each
condition. It is notable that the perceived accuracy of negative thoughts can be decreased without
directly addressing their veracity. In this study, cognitive restructuring elicited somewhat larger
reductions in the perceived accuracy of the thought of being fat than did cognitive defusion. It is
possible that different results would have been obtained had the believability of fat been assessed
in a more ACT-consistent manner, such as by asking participants to rate the extent to which they
experienced the thought “simply as a mental event, rather than as an absolute fact about you”
(Masuda et al., 2010; p. 16).
As predicted by theoretical accounts of ACT processes (Hayes et al., 2006), participants in the
cognitive defusion condition rated the thought of being fat as less important, and this decreased
importance was a significant, unique predictor of reduced distress in response to the thought of
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
230 Deacon et al.
being fat. The opposite pattern of findings was evident for cognitive restructuring. Participants in
this condition rated “fat” thoughts as more important, and this greater importance significantly
predicted less fat distress. From an ACT perspective, an increase in the importance of not having
fat thoughts could be construed as a form of deliberate nonacceptance associated with attempts
to avoid or suppress unwanted experiences. However, the specific type of importance measured in
this study may connote a different process. The increased importance of not having the thought
of being fat evident in the cognitive restructuring condition may simply indicate compliance
with the instructions for implementing this technique. Specifically, participants likely attempted
to challenge and dispute, rather than accept, the validity of the thought “I am fat.” An increase in
the importance of not having fat thoughts may, thus, reflect efforts to directly change the content
of negative thoughts. Although attempting to control unwanted thoughts has been characterized
as inherently dysfunctional within an ACT context (Eifert & Forsyth, 2005), our findings suggest
such efforts may result in positive outcomes in a CBT context, in which the emphasis is on actively
challenging dysfunctional thoughts with the goal of thinking in more realistic and adaptive ways.
As noted by Leahy (2008), cognitive restructuring directly encourages the elicitation of negative
thoughts rather than their avoidance or suppression, and our findings suggest that encouraging
individuals to “struggle” with the content of their thoughts is not necessarily harmful.
The present results are preliminary and should be interpreted in the context of the limita-
tions of this study. The relatively small sample size limited our ability to detect significant differ-
ences between the treatment conditions. Similarly, the risk of Type I error is inflated in this study
because of the large number of outcomes examined. We note that despite the large number of
analyses conducted in this study (and the resultant inflated family-wise error rate), many statisti-
cally significant findings emerged, and very few analyses revealed trends that may have achieved
traditional levels of significance with the inclusion of additional participants. To illustrate, in
order to have 80% power to detect a statistically significant (p 5 .05) difference between condi-
tions on improvement in mirror distress, mirror body satisfaction, fat distress, and BSQ scores
from pretreatment to follow-up, data would have to have been collected from more than 250
participants. As a result, the recruitment of a larger sample would have had little effect on most
of our findings. A related limitation of this study concerns the potential unreliability of statistical
findings obtained in a relatively small sample. Our sample size approximates the “15 participants
per participants” rule of thumb recommended by some authors for the adequate use of regression
(Pedhazur, 1997; Stevens, 1996), but falls short of the recommended sample size of 100 or more
participants recommended by other experts (e.g., Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). Our results should
be considered preliminary, and replication of this study in a larger sample of participants would
bolster confidence in the reliability of the present findings.
Although the rationale phase of this study was highly standardized, we were not able to con-
trol the context of the homework phase as it occurred outside the laboratory. Given this lack
of methodological control, the degree to which post-homework improvement is specifically
attributable to the homework exercises is unclear. An additional limitation concerns the fact that
all outcome variables were self-report measures. As a result, relationships among these variables
may have been artificially inflated because of shared method variance. The absence of a wait
list or alternative treatment condition leaves open the possibility that improvement was influ-
enced by expectancies, regression to the mean, and other factors not specific to the interventions
employed. The rationale and training sessions for each condition were brief, delivered in isolation
from other treatment components, and are not representative of the manner in which ACT and
CBT are delivered in clinical practice. It is possible that the techniques examined in this study
are less effective when delivered in isolation from the broader therapeutic context in which they
are typically implemented. Conversely, studying these therapeutic techniques in isolation avoids
the ambiguities inherent in evaluating large treatment packages composed of diverse procedures,
some of which may be unhelpful (Hayes et al., 2006).
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
231Cognitive Defusion vs. Restructuring
This investigation should not be construed as a test of the relative efficacy of ACT and CBT.
There are many cognitive defusion techniques with ACT, and there are many cognitive modifi-
cation procedures within CBT. We sought to compare the outcome and process of two specific
techniques borrowed from these multicomponent treatments that are designed to address dys-
functional thoughts. Because of the analog nature of our sample and methodology, it remains to
be shown that this ACT cognitive defusion technique is clinically useful among individuals with
bona fide psychological disorders. However, taken together with the results of Masuda et al. (2004,
2009, 2010), our findings support the hypothesized outcomes and processes of this technique
and warrant additional research on its clinical utility. This study also highlights the possibility,
demonstrated by Forman, Herbert, Moitra, Yeomans, and Geller (2007), that ACT and CBT may
achieve similar outcomes via different mediating processes.
no t e
1. We thank Dr. Akihiko Masuda for providing us with the cognitive defusion protocol used in the
Masuda et al. (2004) study.
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Acknowledgment. We are grateful to Dr. Michael Twohig for his valuable comments on a previous draft of this
article.
Correspondence regarding this article should be directed to Brett Deacon, PhD, University of Wyoming,
Department of Psychology (#3415), 1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, WY 82071. E-mail: bdeacon@uwyo.edu
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... third wave) primarily target the process and functions of RNT as a broader construct irrespective of thought content, using techniques such as mindfulness. Whilst the distinction between these approaches is not clear cut, observing the relative effects of different approaches may offer some insight into the clinical and theoretical significance of distinguishing between dimensions of RNT (Deacon, Fawzy, Lickel, & Wolitzky-Taylor, 2011). ...
... As highlighted by Monteregge et al., similar techniques are often used across different intervention types, and therefore approaches that do not target RNT directly may do so indirectly, and that this may occur via different pathways that lead to the same effect (e.g. Deacon et al., 2011). For example, traditional cognitive behavioural therapy such as in Richards et al. (2016) does not target RNT directly, however there is an explicit focus on modifying negative thoughts which may be repetitively focused on. ...
... Experimental studies comparing these techniques directly have typically found that both have a positive impact on negative thoughts in different ways. For example, cognitive defusion, a core technique within ACT, has been shown to decrease the believability and discomfort of negative thoughts whilst cognitive restructuring has been shown to have a greater effect on the perceived accuracy of negative thoughts (Deacon et al., 2011;Larsson, Hooper, Osborne, Bennett, & McHugh, 2016;Masuda et al., 2010). Future research would benefit from investigating the current finding by directly comparing different intervention types. ...
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Background Depression and anxiety are prevalent in youth populations and typically emerge during adolescence. Repetitive negative thinking (RNT) is a putative transdiagnostic mechanism with consistent associations with depression and anxiety. Targeting transdiagnostic processes like RNT for youth depression and anxiety may offer more targeted, personalised and effective treatment. Methods A meta-analysis was conducted to examine the effect of psychological treatments on RNT, depression and anxiety symptoms in young people with depression or anxiety, and a meta-regression to examine relationships between outcomes. Results Twenty-eight randomised controlled trials examining 17 different psychological interventions were included. Effect sizes were small to moderate across all outcomes (Hedge's g depression = −0.47, CI −0.77 to −0.17; anxiety = −0.42, CI −0.65 to −0.20; RNT = −0.45, CI −0.67 to −0.23). RNT-focused and non-RNT focused approaches had comparable effects; however, those focusing on modifying the process of RNT had significantly larger effects on RNT than those focusing on modifying negative thought content. Meta-regression revealed a significant relationship between RNT and depression outcomes only across all intervention types and with both depression and anxiety for RNT focused interventions only. Conclusion Consistent with findings in adults, this review provides evidence that reducing RNT with psychological treatment is associated with improvements in depression and anxiety in youth. Targeting RNT specifically may not lead to better outcomes compared to general approaches; however, focusing on modifying the process of RNT may be more effective than targeting content. Further research is needed to determine causal pathways.
... Study 3 aimed to target negative self-referential processes using the psychotherapy technique of cognitive defusion. Cognitive defusion is an empirically supported intervention , adapted from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), that trains participants to create psychological distance from their thoughts (Kross, 2001;Masuda, Hayes, Sackett, & Twohig, 2004) in order to facilitate adaptive self-reflection, interrupt negative self-referential cognitions, and reduce subjective distress associated with thoughts (Deacon, Fawzy, Lickel, & Wolitzky-Taylor, 2011;Mori & Tanno, 2015;Yovel, Mor, & Shakarov, 2014). In order to assess the effectiveness of this cognitive intervention on its intended target, physiological and behavioral methods were utilized to index and assess for changes in the cognitive and socio-affective processes that have been reported to be dysfunctional in depression. ...
... Cognitive defusion is an empirically supported intervention that is used to train participants to create psychological distance from their thoughts (Kross, 2001;Masuda et al., 2004) in order to facilitate adaptive self-reflection (Mori & Tanno, 2015), interrupt perseverative cognitions and reduce distress associated with thoughts (B. J. Deacon et al., 2011;Yovel et al., 2014). The present study examined whether a cognitive defusion intervention is able to produce changes cognitive and affective processing and emotional experience immediately after thinking about a distressing experience. ...
... defusion has demonstrated efficacy comparable to the cognitive therapy technique of cognitive restructuring for reducing distress associated with disturbing thoughts (B. J.Deacon, Fawzy, Lickel, & Wolitzky-Taylor, 2011;Yovel, Mor, & Shakarov, 2014) and has received empirical support as a standalone intervention for the treatment of depression and ...
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Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a highly prevalent psychological disorder that affects an estimated 20.6% of adults in the United States. Despite significant research efforts, treatment response rates remain unacceptably low. The Establishing Moderators and Biosignatures of Antidepressant Response for Clinical Care for Depression (EMBARC) study aimed to address this problem through the search for "biosignatures" that include clinical, contextual, and biological measures to identify a more personalized approach to identifying appropriate treatment recommendations. Through three distinct investigations, this dissertation aims to utilize prior research to study “biosignatures" that may be relevant for predicting antidepressant treatment response. Results from this dissertation may inform future personalized approaches to depression care that may reduce the time to receiving adequate treatment.
... They observed that all three conditions saw reductions in discomfort with thoughts but not believability or importance of thoughts. Other studies observe that both brief defusion and restructuring interventions have been observed to produce comparable reductions in body dissatisfaction (Deacon et al., 2011). Moreover, both defusion and restructuring produced reductions in believability of and discomfort with thoughts about weight. ...
... In view of the large number of outcomes being examined in the present analyses, we acknowledge the inflated risk to Type I error in the present study. Due to the relatively small sample size in the present study and informed by Perneger (1998) and similar studies (see Deacon et al., 2011), results are reported without Bonferroni correction to guard against inflated Type II error. In light of this, we encourage tentative interpretation of the statistics presented and advise readers to consider the effect sizes presented (in this case partial eta squared). ...
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Conversational agents or chatbots are a novel, highly accessible, and low-resource method of psychological intervention delivery. The present research aims to compare two brief chatbot interventions that delivered cognitive restructuring and defusion interventions, respectively. It was hypothesized that a defusion chatbot would lead to reduced cognitive fusion and decreased thought believability relative to cognitive restructuring and a nonactive control. Participants ( N = 223; M age of 28.01 [ SD = 10.29]; 47 identified as male, 174 as female, and 2 as nonbinary) were randomized into one of three conditions (defusion, restructuring, control), engaged for 5 days completing thought and mood measures pre- and postintervention. Sixty-two participants ( M age of 25.98; SD = 8.647 years) completed measures again at time 2 (49 identified as female, 12 as male, and 1 as nonbinary). No statistically significant differences were observed among groups on believability of thoughts ( F [2, 25] = .79, p = .47, ηp ² = .06), negativity of thoughts ( F [2,25] = 1.49, p = . 25, η ² = .11), discomfort associated with thoughts ( F [2 , 25 ] = . 48, p = .62, ηp ² = .04), and willingness ( F [2, 25] = 3.00, p = .07, ηp ² = .19) to have negative self-referential thoughts. Moreover, substantial attrition of 72% was observed. Acceptability and usability of the chatbots employed are discussed as contributing toward the limited effectiveness of interventions and elevated attrition. Various recommendations are presented to support researchers and clinicians in developing engaging and effective chatbots.
... A person who has the thought "I'm ugly" could respond in the moment by using restructuring (e.g., challenging whether this thought is accurate and generating alternative thoughts such as 'Actually, I like how my hair looks right now' instead), defusion (e.g., acknowledging this thought as a thought, and still choosing to wear the same outfit or do a social activity), or potentially both methods. The utility of cognitive restructuring and cognitive defusion for mental health is supported by global correlations in selfreport measures Krafft et al., 2019), laboratory studies (Deacon et al., 2011;Levin et al., 2012), and clinical trials (Levin et al., 2018a(Levin et al., , 2018bWampold et al., 2002), and both processes have some initial support as mediators of therapeutic change Smits et al., 2013;Zettle et al., 2011). ...
... Some studies have found defusion to be significantly more effective for managing negative thoughts as well as for reducing acting on food cravings (Larsson et al., 2015;Moffitt et al., 2012). It should be noted that other studies have found approximately equivalent positive outcomes between the two, albeit with potential differences in underlying processes of change (Barrera et al., 2016;Deacon et al., 2011;Levin et al., 2018aLevin et al., , 2018bYovel et al., 2014). The results in the present study are broadly consistent with this literature, finding overall a similar pattern of results but with defusion potentially having broader and more long-lasting impact. ...
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Background Understanding how cognitive processes are naturally used by untrained individuals in the moment to cope with difficult thoughts may help inform effective and efficient interventions.Methods This study investigated self-reported naturalistic use of two evidence-based processes, cognitive restructuring and cognitive defusion, in an untrained, predominantly White female college student sample (n = 194) through ecological momentary assessments over seven days.ResultsCognitive restructuring and defusion had a large positive relationship. Both processes were also positively associated with increased momentary use of suppression and distraction. Only momentary defusion was associated with decreased rumination and negative affect at the same timepoint, while both defusion and restructuring were associated with positive affect and increased values progress at the same timepoint. Momentary defusion predicted later values progress, but only among those with low distress.Conclusions Overall, results suggest that both cognitive restructuring and cognitive defusion are used in a nonclinical, untrained population, that both processes are overall beneficial when used in the moment, and that defusion may be particularly relevant to certain aims such as lower rumination or values progress across time points. Replication among clinical and more diverse populations is needed.
... Psychoeducation was provided about cognitive fusion, the experience of an individual becoming stuck with the literal meaning of a thought or urge rather than noticing it as a temporary experience ( Bardeen and Fergus, 2016 ). It was then contrasted with the principle of cognitive defusion, or the process by which an individual attempts to decrease the influence of a certain thought or urge and recognize thoughts as temporary, internal experience ( Deacon et al., 2011 ), in order to help Arthur better resist picking behaviors. By the 9th visit, Arthur had returned to regular use of treatment skills, SPS-R of 12/32. ...
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... The emphasis of ACT on experiential learning enables it to be used successfully with generalised cognitive impairments in learning disability settings (Brown and Hooper, 2009). For example, the ACT process of defusion (distinguishing between thoughts and reality) does not require cognitive reframing of psychologically distressing thoughts in order to reduce negative responses to thoughts (Assaz et al., 2018) and has been shown to produce more rapid change than cognitive restructuring (Deacon et al., 2011). Cognitive factors may also underpin ACT's success with complex presentations, i.e. treatment-resistant populations (Clarke et al., 2014). ...
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... In contrast, reappraisal using distancing is not akin to clinical cognitive restructuring; patients are not typically asked to imagine that a situation they experienced is not real or pretend they are a detached observer of the situation. This process is more similar to a different clinical technique called cognitive defusion, commonly employed in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Deacon et al., 2011;Forman et al., 2012;Larsson et al., 2016). When using cognitive defusion patients are asked to refrain from trying to change their thoughts and instead attempt to change their relationship to their thoughts. ...
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An ACT Approach Chapter 1. What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy? Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, Kara Bunting, Michael Twohig, and Kelly G. Wilson Chapter 2. An ACT Primer: Core Therapy Processes, Intervention Strategies, and Therapist Competencies. Kirk D. Strosahl, Steven C. Hayes, Kelly G. Wilson and Elizabeth V. Gifford Chapter 3. ACT Case Formulation. Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, Jayson Luoma, Alethea A. Smith, and Kelly G. Wilson ACT with Behavior Problems Chapter 4. ACT with Affective Disorders. Robert D. Zettle Chapter 5. ACT with Anxiety Disorders. Susan M. Orsillo, Lizabeth Roemer, Jennifer Block-Lerner, Chad LeJeune, and James D. Herbert Chapter 6. ACT with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Alethea A. Smith and Victoria M. Follette Chapter 7. ACT for Substance Abuse and Dependence. Kelly G. Wilson and Michelle R. Byrd Chapter 8. ACT with the Seriously Mentally Ill. Patricia Bach Chapter 9. ACT with the Multi-Problem Patient. Kirk D. Strosahl ACT with Special Populations, Settings, and Methods Chapter 10. ACT with Children, Adolescents, and their Parents. Amy R. Murrell, Lisa W. Coyne, & Kelly G. Wilson Chapter 11. ACT for Stress. Frank Bond. Chapter 12. ACT in Medical Settings. Patricia Robinson, Jennifer Gregg, JoAnne Dahl, & Tobias Lundgren Chapter 13. ACT with Chronic Pain Patients. Patricia Robinson, Rikard K. Wicksell, Gunnar L. Olsson Chapter 14. ACT in Group Format. Robyn D. Walser and Jacqueline Pistorello