Comparing a Brief Self-as-Context Exercise to Control-Based and Attention Placebo Protocols for Coping with Induced Pain

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APA Citation: 

Carrasquillo, N., & Zettle, R. D. (2014). Comparing a brief self-as-context exercise to control-based and attention placebo protocols for coping with induced pain. The Psychological Record, 64(4), 659-669.

Publication Topic: 
ACT: Conceptual
ACT: Empirical
Publication Type: 
Acceptance and commitment therapy, Self-as-context, Analogue research

Of the several processes that purportedly contribute to psychological flexibility, that of enhancing self-as-context, or transcendent perspective taking, has been the least investigated. To address this omission, we conducted two analogue studies with college student participants examining the relative impact of a brief exercise for enhancing the contextual self on pain tolerance (n = 22) by comparing it to control-based (n = 22) and attention-placebo (n = 22) protocols. In Study 1, the self-as-context intervention was a generic one that we modified only slightly from the “observer exercise” presented in Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson (1999, pp. 193–195). Significant, but equivalent, increases in pain tolerance as assessed by the cold pressor were obtained for the three protocols, with the largest effect size noted for the control-based condition. In Study 2, we compared a self-as-context protocol (N = 22) that was contextualized to the experience of pain to data from Study 1. The contextualized intervention significantly increased pain tolerance compared to the generic self-as-context and attention-placebo conditions of Study 1. The increase was statistically equivalent to that obtained for the control-based condition of Study 1, but represented a greater effect size, suggesting that the relative impact of a generic self-as-context exercise is increased when contextualized to a specific psychological challenge. We discuss the implications of these findings for future research investigating the impact of interventions targeting self-as-context within both analogue and clinical research.

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