Are the Effects of Cognitive Restructuring Sustainable in the Face of Fear?

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

Related articles:
What is CBT?
Needle Phobia: A Potentially Deadly Diagnosis
Imagine Not Worrying: How to Stop Scaring Yourself

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  • Taylor


    July 25th, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    Are there group sessions that would help you learn how to do this or is this something that you find more in one on one sessions? I would love to know what kind of time frame most patients are looking at when they are committed to totally changing the way that they feel about certain elements of life. It must be pretty difficult to totally change how you feel or the way that something makes you feel and turn that into something more positive and easier to handle. That’s like changing something that has always been a part of you for some reason and to have to turn that all the way aorund must be a real struggle for some people. Worth it in the end, that’s for sure, but taking a lot of dedication and hard work to get there.

  • M.M


    July 25th, 2012 at 11:48 PM

    Life fears against snakes and spiders? Doesn’t seem like a perfect study.You can teach a person to be less fearful of snakes and spiders but facing the world and the people in it in general is much tougher.We are more complex and deceiving than any animal can ever be.

  • eileen j

    eileen j

    July 26th, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    That kind of change was affected pretty quickly in this sampling group of students.

    Think about how much this could really change lives if this was done even more than one time.

    This is something that could really go a long way in helping people with these kind of fears be given a way out, a way to learn to cope without experiencing those same fears and anxieties that have plagued them.

  • Betty


    July 28th, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    While I think that the effects are sustainable, I also think that just like with any other new habit, it is something that has to be practiced time and again to get it nailed down and to get it right. This kind of change is not possible overnight. I am sure that facing these fears and really being able to go to a better place when confronted with them is going to take practice and diligence, both of which are things that we sometimes get too lazy to complete. But if this is something that is important to you, then you will make that kind of cimmitment and do the necessary hard work to get it ingrained into how you think and behave all the time.

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