Social Standard Setting: The Achilles Heel of Informational Accounts of Therapeutic Change

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APA Citation: 

Rosenfarb, I., & Hayes, S. C. (1984). Social standard setting: The achilles heel of informational accounts of therapeutic change. Behavior Therapy, 15, 515-528.

Publication Topic: 
Behavior Analysis: Empirical
Publication Type: 

Two common clinical interventions-self-statements and modeling-usually thought of as being effective due to their informational components were compared in the treatment of children's fear of the dark. Some children were told that the experimenter would know the specific treatment implemented while other children were led to believe that no one could know the specific treatment they received. Results showed that when the treatments took place in a public context, children improved an average of 50 sec in dark tolerance. However, when implemented in a private context, children's dark tolerance decreased an average of 2 sec. A nonspecific public control group improved an average of 1 sec in dark tolerance. If the interventions were effective because of new information learned, then the private treatments should have been as effective as the public treatments in changing behavior. The results are interpreted as showing that in this situation these therapies were effective due to specific social influence mechanisms. When public, the treatments appeared to set up social criteria for improved performance. These results and other related research suggest that many common clinical interventions, usually thought of as being effective because of new information learned, may operate through such social mechanisms. Therapeutic researchers should be aware of such "specific" social influence processes in addition to the "nonspecific" social influence processes usually controlled for in therapy research.

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