Electronic Theses and Dissertations


Laura Ely

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology

First Advisor

Kelly G. Wilson

Second Advisor

Marc Showalter

Third Advisor

Michael Allen

Relational Format



A distinctive feature of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is cognitive defusion. Rapid word repetition is one of the exercises used in ACT to promote defusion. Previous research has examined the effect of this exercise with the general population, using words representing negative self-referential thoughts. Studies have found that discomfort and believability of these thoughts decrease more following this defusion exercise as compared to a thought distraction task. The present study evaluated the effects of the word repetition defusion exercise using content reflecting academic distress, in an undergraduate sample primed to feel academic anxiety. The defusion exercise was compared to a thought control task and a control condition (reading). The statement "I am a failure" was rated for discomfort, believability, and willingness pre- and post-intervention. There was no statistically significant difference between the defusion and thought control interventions in changing any of the ratings. However, some statistically significant differences were found between the interventions and the control condition (reading an article). Defusion was superior to the control condition in decreasing discomfort ratings. Thought control was superior to the control condition in decreasing believability ratings. Willingness ratings decreased significantly in the thought control condition relative to the control condition. The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) was used as a behavioral measure to gauge any changes in psychological flexibility. The IRAP compared latency of correct responses to tasks consistent and inconsistent with negative self-relevant thinking about academics. No statistically significant effect was found between conditions for the IRAP, indicating no difference in effect on psychological flexibility. Differences in the outcome of this study and previous studies are discussed. Future studies should examine the word repetition and other cognitive defusion techniques in specific clinical populations. Future research should work toward refining measures of defusion.


Clinical Psychology



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