Cognitive restructuring (CR) is similar to cognitive reappraisal and is at the core of most cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT). The goal of CR is to reframe thoughts associated with feelings. Clients taught CR can use this technique to apply nonthreatening behaviors and reactions to feelings that once elicited fear and panic. This method has been shown to be highly effective at transforming maladaptive emotional responses that are common in individuals with a variety of psychological problems, such as posttraumatic stress, anxiety, panic, and fear. Although there is an abundant amount of research demonstrating the immediate benefits of this type of therapy on clinical samples, few studies have attempted to replicate the effects of CR outside of a therapeutic setting. Therefore, Ashley A. Shurick of the Department of Psychology at Stanford University recently led a study that employed CR in a nonclinical sample of college students and assessed the sustainability of the technique over a 24-hour period.
Shurick enlisted 52 students for her study and exposed them to a fear-conditioning experiment involving spiders and snakes. Upon completion, the participants were then assigned to either a CR condition or a noncognitive condition (control group). Twenty-four hours later, the participants were again exposed to the fear-conditioning experiment and their appraisals and emotional responses were documented and evaluated. Shurick discovered that the CR participants had significantly less fear and panic when reintroduced to the fear condition than the control group. This clearly shows that the effects of CR are relatively sustainable even when they are taught outside of a clinical setting. These findings also demonstrate the positive effects of CR when delivered to a nonclinical sample of individuals with relatively stable levels of emotional regulation. Shurick believes that the way in which her study was conducted provides evidence to support the benefits of CR in the general as well as clinical population. She added, “This study shows that cognitive restructuring can lead to lasting changes in emotional responding, demonstrating the durable effects of this regulatory technique.”
Shurick, A. A., Hamilton, J. R., Harris, L. T., Roy, A. K., Gross, J. J., Phelps, E. A. (2012). Durable effects of cognitive restructuring on conditioned fear. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029143
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