Measuring self and rules in what people say: exploring whether self-discrimination predicts long-term wellbeing


Paul W.B. Atkins, Robert G. Styles


Relational Frame Theory views the self as verbal discrimination of one's own behavior using deictic framing. We coded interviews similar to those occurring in therapy sessions for occurrences of a conceptualized, experiential or observing sense of self as well as values-oriented or control-oriented self-rules. We then used the frequencies of these different forms of self-discrimination to predict wellbeing 6 and 12 months later. Participants were legal and medical professionals who completed a range of wellbeing measures as well as interviews exploring their emotional and epistemic responses to personal life events. Two self-discrimination behaviors, reflecting values-oriented self-rules and self-as-context, predicted wellbeing 6 and 12 months later. While exploratory, this study suggests that the ways people discriminate their own behavior in natural language is a reliable determinant of wellbeing over extended periods. This approach provides researchers and clinicians with an additional tool for understanding and working with identity and psychological flexibility.

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