Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology

First Advisor

Kelly G. Wilson

Second Advisor

Mark Van Boening

Third Advisor

John Young

Relational Format



This study explored the ways in which people make sense of ambiguous tasks and the degree to which people prefer contexts where coherent responding is possible. Relational frame theory contains a foundational assumption that coherence (i.e., making sense) is reinforcing for verbally competent humans. That is, it is assumed that humans relate ambiguous stimuli in ways that go together because they have an extensive learning history where others have given praise, positive attention, and other reinforcement for this behavior. This study was designed to empirically investigate this core assumption of relational frame theory by analyzing response patterns to ambiguous stimuli and by assessing whether participants displayed a preference towards coherent contexts. Obtained findings revealed that the majority of participants responded to ambiguous stimuli in ways that were internally consistent and coherent in the absence of any programmed contingencies. Many participants also displayed a preference toward contexts where coherent responding was possible and a small subset of participants persisted in this preference even when it was increasingly costly to do so. Reports of frustration obtained throughout the preparation were moderated both by performance in study tasks and by measures of cognitive fusion and psychological inflexibility. The major theoretical contributions of these findings as well as applied implications were discussed.


Clinical Psychology



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