Experiential avoidance, rule -governed behavior, and anxiety

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

Experiential avoidance is the attempt to escape or avoid unwanted private experiences (unobservable behavior). A wide range of research shows that humans, at times, persist in engaging in experiential avoidance despite its negative effects. This rigid adherence to experiential avoidance may be due to the insensitivity effects of rule-governed behavior. Behavior learned through rules is usually more difficult to change than behavior learned through direct experience, even when the rules are inaccurate. Acceptance and mindfulness treatments have been developed to undermine rule-governed behavior so that experiential avoidance will be reduced. However, no research to date has directly examined the link between experiential avoidance, rule-governed behavior, and psychopathology. Thus, it is unknown whether therapists should even target rule-governed behavior in therapy. This thesis attempted to address the issue by examining whether a relation exists between participants' scores on tests of experiential avoidance and anxiety and their performance on the relational evaluation procedure (REP), which examines the processes involved in establishing rule-governed behavior. It was predicted that individuals higher in self-reported experiential avoidance and self-reported anxiety would respond in accordance to the initially trained rules for more trials than individuals lower in self-reported experiential avoidance and self-reported anxiety during the condition in which the rule-specified contingencies had changed. (a) Specifically, it was hypothesized that individuals higher in self-reported experiential avoidance and self-reported anxiety would develop discriminative control slower than individuals lower in self-reported experiential avoidance and self-reported anxiety. Thus, an interaction between Group and Block of Trials was predicted. Also, it was predicted that participants higher in self-reported experiential avoidance and self-reported anxiety would demonstrate more instructionally induced insensitivity during the first block of trials in the second baseline phase, in which feedback was not provided, than individuals lower in self-reported experiential avoidance and self-reported anxiety. (b) Specifically, it was hypothesized that participants higher in self-reported experiential avoidance and self-reported anxiety would have smaller difference scores (percentage of instructed responses in the presence of X1-percentage of instructed responses in the presence of X2) than individuals lower in self-reported experiential avoidance and self reported anxiety, during the second baseline phase. These hypotheses were not supported, as differences in performances on the REP between the groups were not found. A detailed analysis of the REP is provided, along with implications for future research.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Woods, Douglas W., Supervisor, External person
Publication statusUnpublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Experiential avoidance, rule -governed behavior, and anxiety'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this