Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Emotional Disorders ...

1 downloads 0 Views 531KB Size Report
Nov 19, 2009 - journalCode=hpli20. Download by: [Temple University Libraries] ... University of Wisconsin, Madison. Lauren B. ... According to the theory of lay epistemology, people's ... pability principles by having the patient list instances in.

Psychological Inquiry

ISSN: 1047-840X (Print) 1532-7965 (Online) Journal homepage:

Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Emotional Disorders: A Lay Epistemic Reconstruction? Lyn Y. Abramson , Lauren B. Alloy & Benjamin M. Dykman To cite this article: Lyn Y. Abramson , Lauren B. Alloy & Benjamin M. Dykman (1990) Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Emotional Disorders: A Lay Epistemic Reconstruction?, Psychological Inquiry, 1:3, 198-200, DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli0103_2 To link to this article:

Published online: 19 Nov 2009.

Submit your article to this journal

Article views: 13

View related articles

Citing articles: 2 View citing articles

Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by: [Temple University Libraries]

Date: 30 March 2016, At: 09:43

Psychological Inquiry 1990, Vol. 1, No. 3, 198-219

Copyright 1990 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

COMMENTARIES Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Emotional Disorders: A Lay Epistemic Reconstruction? Lyn Y. Abramson

Downloaded by [Temple University Libraries] at 09:43 30 March 2016

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Lauren B. Alloy Temple University

Benjamin M. Dykman University of BritishColumbia

How do humans acquire, and sometimes modify, their personal knowledge about the world? Kruglanski's theory of lay epistemology provides a novel answer to this question and has provocative implications for understanding and modifying maladaptive thinking among emotionally disturbed people. In this commentary, we focus on these implications and evaluate Kruglanski's lay epistemic reconstruction of the cognitive theory and therapy of emotional disorders.

Overview of the Theory of Lay Epistemology Kruglanski's theory of lay epistemology rests on the nonjustificationist philosophy of knowledge (see Kruglanski & Jaffe, 1988). Nonjustification emphasizes that infinite pieces of evidence are relevant to evaluating the validity of any theory, hypothesis, or proposition. Insofar as it would seem to be impossible to examine all relevant evidence for a given theory, we never can be certain of the theory's validity. Thus, according to nonjustification, all our inferences are based on incomplete evidence and there is no logical basis for absolute certainty about the truth of any theory, hypothesis, or proposition. According to the theory of lay epistemology, people's knowledge consists of propositions (theories, hypotheses, etc .) in which they have a given degree of eonfidence. People are said to have definite knowledge on a topic when they assume their propositions are valid (Kruglanski & Jaffe, 1988). Lay epistemic theory postulates that to acquire knowledge on a topic, a person engages in the two interwoven processes of hypothesis generation and hypothesis validation. An exciting and novel feature of Kruglanski's theory is that it recognizes that, in principle, a person could generate an infinite number of hypotheses consistent with a given piece of evidence (the problem with induction). Yet, people often do possess definite knowledge on many topics. Thus, hypothesis generation usually comes to a halt, and people "freeze" on a particular hypothesis despite the logical impossibility of knowing for certain that the frozen hypothesis is the correct one. Just as cognitive capability (availability and accessibility) and motivational factors influence the initiation of hypotheses, they also govern their cessation. We now review, elaborate, and evaluate Kruglanski's lay

epistemic reconstruction of the cognitive theory and therapy of emotional disorders.

Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Emotional Disorders Both beck (e.g., Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979) and Ellis (e.g ., 1980) suggested that dysfunctional cognitions cause emotional distress. They further emphasized that such distress-producing cognitions are distorted, inaccurate, or irrational. By contrast, nondistressed individuals (i.e., "normals") are hypothesized to think in a nondistorted, accurate, and rational manner. Perhaps Beck's and Ellis's focus on cognitive distortion and irrationality reflects their psychoanalytic heritage which emphasized difficulties in "reality testing" among disordered individuals. It is of interest that although Freud placed great emphasis on motivational determinants of cognition, both Beck and Ellis generally have ignored, or even eschewed, possible motivational influences. The goal of therapy for Beck and Ellis is to rid the patient of cognitive distortion and rationality. Beck et al. (1979) wrote, "The therapeutic techniques are designed to identify, reality test, and correct distorted conceptualizations and the dysfunctional beliefs (schemas) underlying these cognitions" (p. 4). The major therapeutic method used by Beck consists of collaborative empiricism whereby patient and therapist formulate the patient's automatic thoughts, inferences, and assumptions as hypotheses and then design experiments testing the validity of these hypotheses against the patient's experience. Ellis (1980) argued that although his rational-emotive therapy utilizes the empirical techniques developed by Beck and colleagues, the preferred technique is philosophical disputing, intended to rid patients of their irrational beliefs and assumptions.

Lay Epistemic Reconstruction of Cognitive Theory and Therapy Consistent with Beck and Ellis, Kruglanski asserts that maladaptive cognitions cause emotional distress. However, Kruglanski emphasizes that such distress-producing cogni-

Downloaded by [Temple University Libraries] at 09:43 30 March 2016


tions are not necessarily distorted or irrational. In this regard, he contends that there is no relationship between the veridicality or accuracy of a belief and the amount of distress it produces. Indeed, the theory of lay epistemology further implies, contrary to the apparent assumptions of Beck and Ellis, that it is logically impossible for a therapist to know whether or not a given patient's cognitions are distorted or, for that matter, whether the therapist's own cognitions are distorted. All that can be determined is whether or not the patient's beliefs agree with those of the therapist or some other current criterion-setter. Finally, Kruglanski again disagrees with Beck and Ellis and argues that no one group of people is likely to be more accurate than another, on average. Consistent with Beck and Ellis, Kruglanski's goal for therapy is to rid the patient of distress-causing cognitions. However, at odds with Beck and Ellis, Kruglanski emphasizes that the lay epistemic therapist focuses on altering the content rather than the accuracy, veridicality, or rationality of the patient's cognitions. The strategies and techniques available to a lay epistemic therapist follow from the postulates of lay epistemic theory about how knowledge is acquired and modified. For example, the therapist might rely on the patient's motivational needs. If the patient were motivated to believe he is fair to other people, the therapist might point out that his belief that all other people find him repulsive and his accompanying withdrawal from them might not be giving other people a fair chance to demonstrate their appreciation of him. Alternatively, the therapist might make use of cognitive capability principles by having the patient list instances in which people have shown interest or liking for him over the past year. Presumably this would facilitate the accessibility of more positive cognitions. As the previous example shows, the lay epistemic therapist may use standard cognitive-therapy methods such as collaborative empiricism or disputation but would construe them as being in the service of changing the content rather than the accuracy or rationality of the patient's cognitions. Lay epistemic therapy would be considered successful when the patient abandoned the frustrative hypothesis (the belief that one has failed or will fail) and froze on a more positive belief.

Evaluation of the Reconstruction We are genuinely excited by the lay epistemic reconstruction of the cognitive theory and therapy of emotional disorders. Kruglanski's suggestion that emotionally disturbed people may be no more inaccurate or irrational than nondisturbed people is consistent with work showing that depressives often are more accurate (at least by current criterion setters' standards) than nondepressives who often show positive biases (e.g., Alloy & Abramson, 1988; Dykman, Abrarnson, Alloy, & Hartlage, 1989). Similarly, this aspect of the reconstruction is consistent with much basic research in. social cognition documenting pervasive biases in normal cognition. We previously have argued that an important shortcoming in Beck's theory is his apparently erroneous portrayal of the normal, nondistressed individual as unbiased and accurate. Thus, an advantage of the lay epistemic reconstruction is that it makes the theory and practice of cognitive therapy more consistent with basic research in social, personality, and cognitive psychology (cf. Dykman & Abramson, 1990). Focusing on the content rather than the veridicality or rationality of patients' beliefs has additional positive im-


plications not addressed by Kruglanski. First, we have always felt a bit uncomfortable when cognitive therapists tell patients that their beliefs are distorted or irrational. We cannot help but wonder whether at least some patients are disturbed (e.g., hurt, shamed, insulted) by such comments from their therapist. Such patients may voice agreement with the therapist's beliefs during the session to avoid being called inaccurate or irrational but still subscribe to their original distress-producing cognitions in private. Little therapeutic progress would be made. The lay epistemic focus on content rather than veridicality or rationality avoids this problem. Second, the lay epistemic focus on content may also be more likely to lead patients to change their problematic environments, rather than just think more "accurately" or "rationally" about them, and thereby be more empowering than standard cognitive therapy. For example, a woman who is told repeatedly by her abusive husband that she is worthless may come to believe this and, in turn, develop depressive symptoms. A standard cognitive therapist might use the method of collaborative empiricism to help the woman test whether her cognition of worthlessness is accurate. This therapist might also emphasize to the patient that it doesn't follow logically that you are worthless just because someone important to you says you are. Although such therapy might modify the woman's belief and, in turn, lessen her depressive symptoms, it nonetheless leaves her in a depressogenic environment in which she probably will have to work exceedingly hard to avoid becoming depressed again. The lay epistemic therapist, on the other hand, may achieve more far-reaching therapeutic success with the woman. For example, this therapist may work with the woman to help her leave (or change) the abusive relationship. This therapeutic move would be based on the epistemic idea that removing " the woman from the source of the worthlessness cognitions (or stopping the source) may make these distressproducing less accessible to her. Thus, whereas - cognitions conventional cognitive therapy did little to change a bad situation, lay epistemic therapy led to environmental change which is likely to make it easier for the patient to think more positively about herself and avoid depression. We suspect that if the lay epistemic therapist additionally incorporated the two standard cognitive-therapy techniques already described (but conceptualized them differently), therapy would be most beneficial to the woman. Thus, more so than traditional cognitive therapy, the lay epistemic reconstruction promotes a merger between environmental (Coyne, 1976) and cognitive approaches to emotional disorder. The inclusion of motivational constructs in cognitive therapy is sorely needed. As Kruglanski has shown, they greatly increase the therapeutic arsenal. In addition, they allow cognitive therapy to benefit from recent work in social cognition underscoring the need for integration of cognition and motivation in understanding people's inferences. We agree with Kruglanski that the lay epistemic analysis provides an alternative account of what cognitive therapists actually do in therapy as well as suggesting new therapeutic methods. Kruglanski's analysis points to the importance of examining the process by which cognitive therapy works, as well as evaluating its outcome. Although we generally find the lay epistemic reconstruction of cognitive theory and therapy compelling, we note two problems. First, we are not convinced that Kruglanski's assertion that veridicality of beliefs is uncorrelated with the emotional distress they produce can be derived strictly from

Downloaded by [Temple University Libraries] at 09:43 30 March 2016



the theory of lay epistemology. Insofar as social criteria for accuracy may shift over time, Kruglanski is correct in inferring that the same distress-producing idea could be proclaimed as veridical at one time and as nonveridical at another time. However, this does not imply that there is no relationship between the "objective reality" of beliefs and their affective consequences. (Our understanding is that Kruglanski believes there is an objective reality but that we never can be certain of our knowledge of it.) Thus, although there may indeed be no correlation between veridicality (i.e., objective reality) of beliefs and distress, this is not a strict deduction from Kruglanski's theory. Similarly, we are not convinced that it follows from Kruglanski's theory that no particular group of people generally will be more accurate than another. Certainly, this conclusion does not follow from the Dykman et al. (1989) study cited by Kruglanski. As Dykman et al. pointed out, the finding that both depressives and nondepressives were accurate (and inaccurate) in some laboratory situations does not imply that both groups are necessarily equally accurate over the course of their everyday lives. Dykman et al., in fact, allowed for the possibility that one group could be more accurate than the other over the long run and provided mechanisms for such an occurrence. For example, members of the more accurate group may routinely have a better match between the content of their cognitive schemata and the information in their everyday environments. Alternatively, various information processing strategies and/or motivational factors may give one group a processing advantage over the other. Of course, Kruglanski's analysis implies that even if one group were more accurate than the other, we never could know for certain which group it was, because we never could have certain knowledge of the true state of affairs in our subjects' worlds. In conclusion, we find Kruglanski's lay epistemic reconstruction provocative and believe it has powerful and important implications for the conceptualization and conduct of cognitive therapy. We must confess, however, that even after 10 years of work on depressive realism and being generally persuaded by Kruglanski's analysis, there is still something

unsettling about the idea that being more accurate in our personal and social judgments may not, on average, promote our emotional well-being. By analogy to the physical world, many would agree that greater visual acuity, on average, probably increases our chances of survival (those who see better are less likely to be eaten by saber-toothed tigers or hit by cars). If accuracy in personal and social beliefs does not promote emotional well-being, what does it promote? A most unsettling, but perhaps not implausible, answer would be that in many cases accuracy promotes hopelessness and depression (see Alloy & Clements, 1990).

Note Lyn Y. Abramson, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, 1202 West Johnson Street, Madison, WI 53706.

References Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (1988). Depressive realism: Four theoretical perspectives. In L. B. Alloy (Ed.), Cognitive processes in depression (pp. 223-265). New York: Guilford. Alloy, L. B., & Clements, C. M. (1990). The illusion of control: Invulnerability to negative affect and depressive symptomsfollowing laboratory and natural stressors. Manuscript submitted for publication. Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford. Coyne, J. C. (1976). Toward an interactional description of depression. Psychiatry, 39, 28-40. Dykman, B. M., & Abramson, L. Y. (1990). Contributions of basic research to the cognitive theories of depression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, 42-57. Dykman, B. M., Abramson, L. Y., Alloy, L. B., & Hartlage, S. (1989). Processing of ambiguous feedback among depressed and nondepressed college students: Schematic biases and their implicationsfor depressive realism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5p, 431-445. Ellis, A. (1980). Rational-emotive therapy and cognitive behavior therapy: Similarities and differences. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 4 , 325-340. Kruglanski, A. W., & Jaffe, Y. (1988). Curing by knowing: The epistemic approach to cognitive therapy. In L. Y. Abramson (Ed.), Social cognition and clinical psychology: A synthesis (pp. 254-291). New York: Guilford.

Kruglanski's Lay Epistemic Theory: When Rules Describe but Do Not Regulate Reuben M. Baron University of Connecticul

Before examining its liabilities, let us begin by looking at what lay epistemology theory accomplishes. First, and I regard this as its major contribution, it weds cold cognition conceptions derived from the rules of propositional logic, as well as accessibility concepts in priming, to a hot cognition perspective involving both general and specific needs for attaining and avoiding closure. Moreover, the application of this approach really does wonders in the attributional realm by reframing Kelley's covariation and discounting conceptions while at the same time incorporating the gist of Jones and Davis's (1965) hedonic relevance. Using lay epistemic conceptions, Kruglanski is able to move away from the sterile debate about the relative importance of motivational versus information processing models of attributional activity by seeing them as part of one integrated epistemic process

involving consistencies within and between causal hypotheses in different content domains. Similarly, in the attitudechange area, by using epistemic motivation principles Kruglanski is able to break down rigid dichotomies between central and peripheral routes to attitude change. For example, he proposes that extensive processing of source characteristics may occur if the source motivates a fear of invalidity.

Problems in the Epistemic Paradise These and other reinterpretations are very impressive as an intellectual tour de force (cf. Kruglanski's reinterpretation of consistency theories, accuracy, and cognitive therapies); but are they too impressive? Can lay epistemology ever be disconfirmed? If not, why not?

Suggest Documents