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Using the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) as a Measure of Reaction to Perceived Failure and the Effects of a Defusion Intervention in this Context.

Bryan, Theriault, and Bryan (2015) describe self-forgiveness as an "act of generosity and kindness toward the self, following self-perceived inappropriate action" (p. 40). Self-forgiveness has been examined across a range of contexts, and been found to be correlated with positive outcomes on health and general well-being (Bryan et al., 2015; Gueta, 2013; Macaskill, 2012; McGafBn, Lyons, & Deane, 2013; Mudgal & Tiwari, 2015; Ross, Kendall, Matters, Wrobel, & Rye, 2004; Stemthal, Williams, Musick, & Buck, 2010; Wilson, Milosevic, Carroll, Hart, & Hibbard, 2008; Woodyatt, Worthington, Wenzel, & Griffin, 2017). At the

This paper was written with the aid of a FAPESP (Sao Paulo Research Foundation) grant awarded to the first author. same time, further research is needed to explore this phenomenon to ascertain the key elements responsible for its apparent efficacy.

One possibility, explored in the current study, is that self-forgiveness draws on processes of perspective taking on one's own behavior. Support for this contention derives from several sources. First, in literature on forgiveness of others, perspective taking on others' behavior is seen as central (e.g., Takaku, 2001). As regards self-forgiveness, according to Woodyatt, Everett, Worthington, and Griffin (2017), "for self-forgiveness to be genuine, individuals need to maintain their awareness of responsibility and having done wrong while relieving self-condemnation." Both "awareness of responsibility" and "relieving self-condemnation" might be facilitated by mindfulness or perspective taking with respect to ones actions and experiences. The first arguably requires awareness of one's values and of how particular actions or failures may have contravened those (Wenzel, Woodyatt, & Heydrick, 2012). The second can be conceptualized in terms of self-compassion or self-acceptance, and an already burgeoning literature suggests that perspective taking with respect to thoughts and feelings (and especially negative ones such as might arise in the context of self-forgiveness) plays a key role in self-acceptance by allowing one to observe such experiences at a remove (see, e.g., Foody, Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, & Luciano, 2013; Luciano et al., 2011) with minimal reactivity.

The aim of the present study was to extend previous research into reactions to past failings as a key aspect of self-forgiveness by investigating how a perspective-taking intervention might influence responding. This work is based on a contextual behavioral approach to human psychology that allows the exploration of self-forgiveness and potentially related phenomena such as perspective taking from a pragmatic functional analytic perspective that facilitates empirical exploration and intervention. One key theory that has emerged within this approach and that is particularly relevant in this respect is Relational Frame Theory (RFT; e.g., Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001; Stewart, 2016). RFT provides a psychological model of human language and cognition conceptualized as contextually controlled relational responding (relational framing) through which stimuli are related bidirectionally and in accordance with multiple different patterns of relations (sameness, distinction, opposition, comparison, deictic, hierarchical, analogical etc.; e.g., Hughes & Barnes-Holmes, 2016; Stewart & Roche, 2013). There is now substantive evidence that relational framing is an operant acquired through exposure to social contingencies (e.g., Berens & Hayes, 2007; Healy, Barnes-Holmes, & Smeets, 2001) and that, once established, it enables the rapid learning and powerful problem solving that are characteristic of the human species (Cassidy, Roche, & Hayes, 2011; Stewart et al., 2013). At the same time, acquiring this repertoire can facilitate a level of psychological suffering (e.g., based on inaccurate or overly rigid patterns of framing) that is also unique to our species and that we see across diverse forms of psychopathology (Luoma, Hayes, & Walser, 2007; Hayes et al., 2001). This conception of language qua relational framing as both potentially beneficial but also potentially psychologically harmful is what informs Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; e.g., Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2011), a form of psychotherapy linked to RFT that seeks to identify and treat the patterns of psychological suffering that are thus produced.

Hence, RFT argues for the centrality of relational framing to human psychology and the need to investigate this repertoire as a means of exploring key psychological issues from learning and problem solving to psychopathology and psychotherapy. The phenomenon of self-forgiveness arguably sits in the latter domain and in this regard, one recent stream of RFT research has begun to make inroads in facilitating an understanding of the processes involved in this phenomenon. This work has drawn on the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP; Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, Stewart, & Boles, 2010; Finn, Barnes-Holmes, & McEnteggart, 2018; Hughes, Barnes-Holmes, & Vahey, 2012), an RFT-based methodology that allows the exploration of patterns of relational framing. The IRAP is a computer-based task that asks participants to confirm or deny particular sets of relations under time pressure in accordance with particular rules for responding. If they show higher levels of fluency (i.e., a combination of both speed and accuracy) towards one relational pattern than another then this may suggest that the latter pattern is more strongly established and thus more influential in their repertoire. For example, a participant might be presented with the stimuli "Me" and "Worthy" and be required to respond "Same" during one block of trials and "Opposite" in another block. The extent to which participants respond faster to "Same" than to "Opposite" on this particular trial type might be taken as a measure of self-esteem and used to predict responding in other contexts. Indeed, previous research has used the IRAP to examine self-esteem based on such logic (e.g., Vahey, Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, & Stewart, 2009).

From the RFT point of view (see, e.g., Barnes-Holmes et al., 2010), the IRAP may be able to facilitate insights into aspects of psychological responding that go beyond other measures including both traditional self-report (questionnaire) measures as well as alternative methodologies requiring time-pressured responding (so-called implicit measures; e.g., the Implicit Association Test [IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998]). With regard to traditional measures, it is acknowledged that these can fail to capture response biases that participants either find too difficult to acknowledge or articulate (Wilson & Dunn, 2004) or are unwilling to report for various reasons (e.g., Crowne & Marlowe, 1960; Hoyt & McCullough, 2005; Jones & Sigall, 1971). On the topic of self-forgiveness, for example, participants might respond to an item such as "I tend to forgive myself easily for minor wrongdoings" in a manner that does not genuinely reflect their tendency to self-forgive because they find the question too abstract in that context. As an alternative, they might respond inaccurately simply because they do not want to give the impression that they are willing to "go too easy" on themselves.

In contrast with responding required on traditional self-report measures, when individuals are required to respond quickly and accurately to sets of stimulus relations, as they are on IRAP trials, the probability of the initial response on each trial is determined by their verbal and nonverbal history and current contextual variables. These initial responses have been referred to as brief and immediate relational responses (BIRRs) and are contrasted with extended and elaborated relational responses (EERRs) that are typically produced when someone responds on a traditional questionnaire. In other words, the IRAP is seen as targeting BIRRs, rather than EERRs, and the size of an IRAP effect is taken as a measure of the relative probability of the BIRR being targeted by a particular IRAP. By tapping into BIRRs rather than EERRs in this way, the IRAP may provide a more accurate representation of the individual's learning history with respect to the topic of focus and thereby facilitate better prediction of future behavior. With regard to other (implicit) measures that require time-pressured responding such as the IAT, the latter are typically conceptualized as exploring simple associations between concepts. In contrast, the IRAP deliberately focuses on patterns of relations and it is therefore a more sophisticated tool for capturing complex verbal behavior.

In accordance with the foregoing, a number of IRAP-based studies have already explored aspects of self-forgiveness. One study (Bast & Barnes-Holmes, 2015a) directly relevant to the focus of the present investigation used the IRAP to explore participants' responses to their successes and failings both in terms of their emotional reactions (i.e., good vs. bad feelings) and the outcomes they experienced (i.e., positive vs. negative). This paradigm allowed investigation into key aspects of self-forgiveness, wherein the individual must acknowledge and cope with negative emotional reactions to self-perceived failure. In addition, this study explored the extent to which such "implicit" relational responses were related to standardized measures of psychopathology as well as to performance on a scale (the IRAP "analog") that was based directly on the IRAP but omitted time pressure, making it more similar to a traditional "explicit" measure. One core finding was that the pattern of biases observed across the implicit and explicit measures diverged, and the correlations between the two types of measures were either absent or relatively weak. For the IRAP, results arising from trial types that focused on "success" for both the feeling and outcome IRAPs were broadly consistent with "commonsense" conclusions (i.e., responding consistently showed positive biases) but effects for the two trial types focused on "failure," were more complex and non-intuitive; in particular, whereas trial types targeting failure and negative feelings/outcomes showed negative bias, those targeting failure and positive feelings/outcomes produced positive biases. In contrast, all results from the explicit measures were aligned with expected or "commonsense" outcomes. These results suggested that the IRAP might potentially provide an additional source of information concerning this key aspect of self-forgiveness, beyond that provided by explicit measures.

Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015b) extended their earlier study (Bast & Barnes-Holmes, 2015a) by examining whether IRAP response patterns similar to those examined in the first study might be affected by emotional "priming" in which, before being exposed to the IRAP, participants were first prompted to describe either previous successes or previous failures. The findings of this second study showed that the variable of priming affected the two IRAPs (i.e., the "feelings" and "outcomes" IRAPs) differentially such that it appeared to affect performance on the outcomes IRAP but not on the feelings IRAP. At the same time, the feelings IRAP alone predicted level of self-reported psychopathology (though only for participants in the positive priming condition). Once again, findings seemed to suggest that using the IRAP may provide additional insight into processes involved in self-forgiveness.

Of particular interest from a pragmatic point of view is that the IRAP used by Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015b) might be sensitive to contextual manipulation on the basis of these results and could be a useful marker of clinically relevant events (e.g., a perspective-taking intervention). Despite the promise of this study, however, one limitation is that it did not test the effect of currently experienced failure as opposed to described or remembered failure. This might be important in that (1) currently experienced failure could have greater psychological impact than remembered failure and (2) induction of a similar failure event across participants might facilitate greater experimental control. Thus, one key aim of the present study was to use the IRAP to investigate similar processes in the context of currently experienced failure, with a focus on the link between performance and feelings.

To operationalize task failure, participants in this study were exposed to an unsolvable task that was presented in between two separate exposures to both the IRAP and an IRAP analog. In addition, to allow further exploration of processes relevant to self-forgiveness, it was also decided to examine the potentially modifying effect on responding in this context of an ACT-based "defusion" intervention focused on perspective taking. From an ACT point of view, maladaptive or pathological behavior is often a product of how we respond to particular patterns of relational framing such as self-critical thoughts. To the extent that we "buy into" such framing, we are more likely to perpetuate maladaptive or pathological behavior. On the other hand, if we can take the perspective on ("defuse" from) such framing then we are more likely to support psychologically healthy behavior. Within the last few years, researchers have begun to use RFT-based analyses to explore how such defusion/perspective-taking exercises might be optimized. Foody et al. (2013), for example, investigated defusion in the context of negative self-criticism. The basic intervention taught participants to take perspective on their self-critical framing through the use of metaphor. However, the core aim of the study was to compare the efficacy of two differing patterns of relational framing (i.e., distinction-based vs. hierarchical-based deictic relations) as the basis for defusion. In the distinction condition, participants were prompted to frame their negative thoughts as different or separate from themselves, whereas in the hierarchical condition, they were prompted to frame such thoughts as part of themselves such that they were separable but not completely separate from them. Results showed that hierarchical relational framing was effective in reducing stress whereas distinction framing was not. This study thus both provided additional evidence of the efficacy of defusion as an intervention while also facilitating analysis of the processes involved so as to optimize clinical utility.

As suggested, questions remain over the processes responsible for the efficacy of self-forgiveness. One possibility is that self-forgiveness draws on processes of defusion conceptualized as perspective taking on one's negative actions. To explore this idea, the present study sought to examine whether the "hierarchical framing" defusion intervention previously successfully employed by Foody et al. (2013) might affect either IRAP or IRAP analog responding in the context of perceived failure. The IRAP and analog were presented both before and after the administration of (1) a task designed to induce a perception of failure and (2) either a defusion intervention or a neutral (control) task following the failure induction task. In addition to these measures participants were also asked to report on positive and negative feelings in relation to the failure task.



Fifty-one undergraduates (35 female, 16 male), aged from 18 to 37 years (M = 21.25, SD = 3.82) were recruited at the host university, and completed the study on a voluntary basis in exchange for course credit (via an online system of credit allocation). Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Participants were randomly assigned to either the experimental (defusion) or the control group. Twenty-two of the 51 participants were excluded because they failed to meet IRAP criteria (see "Procedure," below).

Setting, Apparatus, and Materials

Participants completed the study in a quiet room. The implicit measure (IRAP) that was programmed in Visual Basic 6 was presented to each participant on a standard personal computer. Explicit measures were provided in hard-copy format.

IRAP The IRAP used in this study (which was identical to the "feelings" IRAP used in Bast & Barnes-Holmes, 2015a, 2015b) focused on feelings arising from failing versus succeeding (see Fig. 1 for a schematic representation of the format for each of the four trial types used). Two possible label stimuli consisted of the statements, "When I fail" and "When I succeed." A range of target stimuli included 12 short statements, 6 of which indicated negative feelings (i.e., "I feel Bad," "I feel Guilty," "I feel Stupid," "I feel Useless," "I feel Frustrated," "I feel Angry") and 6 of which indicated positive feelings (i.e., "I feel Good," "I feel Strong," "I feel Energetic," "I feel Positive," "I feel Calm," "I feel Peaceful"). Hence, each IRAP trial presented a label and a target stimulus that indicated one of four possible label-target combinations or trial types, which may be described as: (1) Failure-Negative feelings; (2) Failure-Positive feelings; (3) Success-Negative feelings; and (4) Success-Positive feelings. Participants had to respond to these label-target combinations by choosing one of two response options, "True" or "False," which appeared in the bottom right- and left-hand comers of the computer screen. The two response options appeared under the prompts "Select 'd' for" and "Select 'k' for." The label stimulus, target stimulus, and both response options appeared on the screen simultaneously at the onset of each trial. The label and the target stimuli varied quasi-randomly with each trial, as did the left-and right- positions of the response options. Responding in accordance with the idea that failure produces negative feelings and success produces positive feelings was labelled "Consistent" responding (i.e., consistent with conventional opinion) whereas responding according to the opposite pattern (i.e., that success produces negative feelings and failure produces positive feelings) was labeled "Inconsistent" responding. Participants were required to respond in a consistent manner on some blocks of trials and in accordance with an inconsistent manner on other blocks. As in previous IRAP studies the difference in average response latencies between "Consistent" and "Inconsistent" responding was the primary datum employed for analysis.

Explicit measures There were two separate types of explicit measure including (1) the IRAP analog (a self-report scale derived directly from the stimuli employed with the IRAP) and (2) assessments used to gauge reaction to the insoluble task.

(1) The IRAP analog was derived directly from the stimuli employed with the IRAP and measured participants' self-reports regarding what they felt when they experienced either success or failure in their lives (see also Bast & Barnes-Holmes, 2015a, 2015b; Bast, Linares, Gomes, Kovac, & Barnes-Holmes, 2016). The first 12 items asked participants to indicate how they felt when they failed in some way, with the first 6 items targeting negative feelings (e.g., "When I fail in some way I feel bad") and the next 6 targeting positive feelings (e.g., "When I fail in some way I feel good"). The next 12 items asked participants to indicate how they felt when they succeeded in some way, with the first 6 again targeting negative feelings (e.g., "When I succeed in some way I feel bad") and the next 6 targeting positive feelings (e.g., "When I succeed in some way I feel good"). Participants were asked to give a score from 1, which was marked as "Completely False" to 7, which was marked as "Completely True." The number 4 was marked as "Neither True nor False." The numbers 2,3,5 and 6 thus gave participants the opportunity to indicate that the relevant statement was somewhat false or true along a graded continuum. In effect, participants were asked to indicate to what extent they experienced positive or negative feelings following failures and successes using the same target words as were presented in the IRAP.

(2) The questionnaire portion of the insoluble task phase included five assessment phases in total, four of which were presentations of the same questionnaire after each exposure to the insoluble task. This questionnaire asked three questions. Question 1 asked participants

to circle the number that best described their task performance from the following options: "1: I couldn't learn at all"; 2: "I'm not sure if I learned"; 3: "I'm almost sure that I learned"; or 4: "I learned this task". This allowed measurement of participants' assessment of their success on the task. Questions 2 and 3 on the questionnaire were provided simply to increase the credibility of the task. Question 2 asked "If you think that you learned, what helped you?" and gave these alternatives: "I was completely focused on the task"; "I'm attentive to details"; "I was engaged with the task"; "The task was clear and intuitive"; "I have knowledge about psychological tests"; "I'm good at solving logical problems"; and "Other." Question 3 asked "If you think that you didn't leam, what do you think was the problem?" and gave these alternatives: "I was distracted"; "I didn't pay attention to the details"; "I wasn't engaged with the task"; "The task wasn't easy"; "I had never done any psychological test before"; "I always have difficulties when solving logical problems"; and "Other." The fifth and final assessment phase included two new questions. Question 1 was an open-ended question that asked participants what they thought about the task, in order to assess whether they might guess that it was insoluble. Question 2 asked participants to rate how the task made them feel on a scale from 0 to 10 with respect to (1) positive emotions and (2) negative emotions.


Participants were guided to a small quiet room equipped with a chair and a table with a desktop computer. After completing consent forms, they were then exposed to the IRAP followed by the IRAP analog. They were subsequently given the insoluble task including periodic assessments of responding in this context. Following this, they received the respective intervention, presented as an audio recording. Finally, they completed the IRAP and IRAP analog again postintervention.

IRAP With the researcher present, the participant read onscreen instructions including a description of the IRAP trials and how to respond on the computer keyboard to the stimuli appearing on screen. Participants were asked to respond quickly and accurately to all tasks, irrespective of whether they considered their responses to be consistent or inconsistent with their established beliefs. The researcher sought to clarify what was required of the participants if they requested any further information.

Each IRAP trial presented a label stimulus, a target stimulus, and two response options (described previously). Choosing the response option deemed to be correct for that particular block of trials removed all stimuli from the screen for a 400 ms intertrial interval before the next trial was presented. Choosing the response option deemed incorrect produced a red X mid screen, directly below the target stimulus and the program only proceeded to the next trial when the correct response option was selected. Each IRAP involved six test blocks, three of which required the participant to show a "consistent" pattern of responding and three of which required responding in accordance with an "inconsistent" pattern. Consistent and inconsistent blocks were presented in an alternating sequence, with participants quasi-randomly assigned to receive either a consistent or an inconsistent block first. Each block involved a total of 24 trials quasi-randomly sequenced to include six presentations of each of the four trial types with the additional constraint that each of the 12 target stimuli appeared twice, once with each of the two types of label stimuli.

Each IRAP commenced with a minimum of two practice blocks. Participants were required to achieve > 80% correct and a medium response latency < 2,000 ms for each of the two practice blocks. If participants failed to achieve these criteria, an onscreen message informed them that the criteria had not been met and they were invited to complete the two practice blocks again. Participants were permitted a maximum of four exposures to the pairs of practice blocks (i.e., eight blocks in total) and if the criteria were not met after the fourth exposure, they were invited to return later that day or on a subsequent day to try again (no participant failed to achieve the criteria on the second attempt). When participants met the criteria on a pair of practice blocks, they continued immediately to a fixed set of six test blocks; these were similar to the practice blocks except that no performance criteria were applied in order to proceed across successive pairs of blocks. However, accuracy and average latency were presented at the end of each block to encourage participants to maintain relatively accurate and rapid responding. In addition, the instruction "This is a test--go fast. Making a few errors is okay" was presented before the beginning of each block. The IRAP program automatically recorded response accuracy (i.e., based on the first correct response emitted on each trial) and response latency (i.e., the time, in ms between the onset of the trial and the emission of a correct response) for each participant on each trial.

Upon completion of all practice and test blocks, the following message appeared on screen: "Thank you. That is the end of this part of the experiment. Please report to the experimenter."

IRAP analog This paper-based scale was presented to the participant, and they were asked to read each item carefully and to ask for clarification from the researcher if anything seemed unclear.

Insoluble task This was an adaptation of a concept learning task originally developed by Hiroto and Seligman (1975). During this task, participants were presented on the computer with a series of four unsolvable puzzles, which they were told were "learning" puzzles. Each puzzle consisted of 10 trials. On each trial, two different geometric figures were presented on either side of the screen. The figures consisted of four dimensions each of which had two associated values: 1. Color (Red or Black); 2. Shape (Square or Circle); 3. Letter (A or T); and 4. Letter size (Large or Small). Participants were instructed that one value of one of the dimensions (e.g., Red) would always be correct and that they had to identify the figure that included this consistently correct value out of the eight possibilities within 10 trials. In fact, no such correct value existed and thus the puzzles were "unsolvable." The figures remained on-screen until the participant responded. The next trial appeared after a 300ms intertrial interval. At the end of the 10th trial, participants were asked to press the space bar to receive feedback on their overall performance for that puzzle. After the space bar was pressed, the computer produced the audio stimulus "Wrong." The researcher then prompted them further with "Wrong?," as if double-checking. The participant then filled in a brief assessment measure for that puzzle. Upon completion of all four puzzles and thus the overall task, they had to fill out a brief end of task measure (see "Setting, Apparatus, and Materials," above).

Intervention Following the insoluble task, participants were exposed to a set of recorded instructions that they could start and stop by pressing onscreen buttons. Participants heard either a defusion recording or a control recording, depending on the group to which they had been assigned. The defusion instructions had been adapted from those used by Foody et al. (2013). These instructions promoted defusion by encouraging participants to see themselves as containing but still separable from (i.e., hierarchically related to) their psychological content. The instructions for the control group were adapted from information available on a website on learning and memory. Full transcripts for both are available on request from the first author.

Both recordings were divided into 12 sections, after each of which the participant was asked to either pause (in order to engage in a brief exercise) or stop the recording (at the end) by pressing an onscreen button. Thus for both groups this phase took a few minutes longer than the uninterrupted recording would have (i.e., about 20 min in total). In the case of the defusion recording, all but one of the exercises involved simply thinking of a particular thought or feeling. The exercise at the end of the ninth block asked the participant to write down a feeling that described how they felt when they had a specific negative thought. Once they had written it down they were then asked to place it in an envelope. The researcher then asked: "Is this the word that comes to mind when you think of that particular feeling?" The participant was then instructed to listen to the rest of the recording when they were ready to do so. The control condition was similar to the defusion condition in structure, in that the participant was required to briefly pause the recording every so often. In this case they were asked during these breaks to reflect on the material provided. Similar to the defusion condition, at the end of the ninth block they were asked to write something down, in this case some of the material they had just heard.

Following the intervention, the participant was exposed to the IRAP and IRAP analog again. They were then thanked for taking part and debriefed.


Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics are provided in the case of the insoluble task assessment. Two mixed repeated measures (2 * 2 * 4) ANOVAs and post-hoc tests with Bonferroni adjustment were conducted for the IRAP and the analog IRAP scale. Bonferroni adjusted levels, calculated by dividing alpha level .05 by the number of post-hoc tests involved, were .0083 and .0125, respectively, for pairwise comparisons and paired samples t-tests. One sample t-tests also with Bonferroni adjustment (adjusted level = .00625) were conducted for the four trial types for both the IRAP and the analog IRAP for each of the two groups. Finally, a correlation matrix was created to check for relationships between the implicit and explicit measures.

Failure Task Assessment

For both groups over the course of the four exposures there was an increase in the percentage reporting that they could not learn the task (Defusion: 53% after Exposure 1 rising to 75% after Exposure 4; Control: 63% after Exposure 1 rising to 86% after Exposure 4). No participant at any stage reported that they thought they were successful. At the same time, no-one reported that they thought that the task was insoluble. In response to the open-ended end-of-task question, many participants reported finding the task difficult (e.g., "Felt the task was quite difficult, continually identifying the wrong feature was demoralising"; "It was too difficult for my level of problem solving skills") (55%); frustrating (e.g., "Frustrated since I kept getting it wrong"; "Frustrating, difficult to hold on to mental checklist of possibilities"; 20%); confusing/unclear (e.g., "Really confusing"; "I could not understand the logic"; 17%) or beyond their capacity to complete (e.g., "I couldn't work out the logic and I ran out of attempts because I didn't keep track well enough"; "The task was hard and I couldn't figure out any of the patterns"; 13%). As regards people's feelings with respect to the task after four exposures, for the Defusion group, mean levels of negative and positive feelings (from 0 to 10) were 4 and 0.7, respectively, whereas for the Control group, mean levels were 2.7 and 0.4, respectively. Thus, both groups were showing moderate levels of negative feeling with little or no positive feeling towards the task.


Data preparation For the purposes of statistical analysis the same criteria as used by Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015a, 2015b) were adopted, that is, participants were required to maintain an accuracy level [greater than or equal to] 75% correct and a median latency [less than or equal to] 2000 ms on two of the three successive pairs of the six test blocks. The data for 22 participants were excluded because they failed to meet these criteria either for the first IRAP (7), the second IRAP (12) or both (3). As a result, analysis was performed for 29 participants (15 and 14 in the control and defusion groups, respectively). If a participant maintained criteria across all six test blocks, all their data were used in D-IRAP score calculation (see below). If a participant failed to maintain criteria in just one successive pair of test blocks, the data for those blocks were discarded and data from the remaining two blocks were used (this was done in six cases).

Consistent with previous IRAP studies, the data were transformed into D-IRAP scores. This transformation functions to minimize the impact of factors such as age, motor skills, and/or cognitive ability on latency data, allowing researchers to measure differences between groups using a response-latency paradigm with reduced contamination by individual differences associated with extraneous factors (Barnes-Holmes et al., 2010; Greenwald, Nosek, & Banaji, 2003). In addition, to aid interpretation (and once again in line with the practice of Bast & Barnes-Holmes, 2015a, 2015b), scores for the two "failure" trial types were inverted (i.e., multiplied by -1; see Hussey, Thompson, McEnteggart, Barnes-Holmes, & Barnes-Holmes, 2015). Following this transformation, positive D-IRAP scores indicated positive-feeling bias (i.e., responding faster to "True" than "False" for positive feelings and to "False" than "True" for negative feelings, regardless of whether or not they were in relation to success or failure) whereas negative D-IRAP scores indicated negative-feeling bias (i.e., responding faster to "True" for negative feelings and "False" for positive feelings).

Mean scores analyses The four overall mean D-IRAP scores for pre- and postintervention were calculated across participants, for the defusion and control groups, and are presented in Fig. 2. The direction and relative size of the D-IRAP scores show some differences from pre- to post- as well as between the groups. Before the intervention, in both groups, a relatively weak and positive bias (i.e., responding faster to "True" for positive feelings and "False" for negative feelings) was found for all the trial types, except Failure-Negative, which showed a negative bias (i.e., responding faster to "False" for positive feelings and "True" for negative feelings). After the intervention (1) all trial types showed stronger biases except for Failure-Negative, (2) the direction of Failure-Positive changed for both groups, and (3) the direction of Failure-Negative changed for the control group but not for the defusion group.

The D-IRAP scores for the four trial types were entered into a 2 (groups) * 2 (time) * 4 (trial types) repeated measures ANOVA. This showed that the difference between trial types was statistically significant (F [1.719, 48.504] = 31.656,p < .001, [[eta].sub.p.sup.2] = .54), and also that there was an interaction between trial type and time (F [1.796, 46.406] = 35.056, p <.001, [[eta].sub.p.sup.2] = .565). However, there was no significant difference for either group or time and no other interaction effect.

Bonferroni adjusted pairwise comparisons among trial types yielded significant results for two of the preintervention IRAP trial types, namely, Fail-Negative versus Fail-Positive (p =.008) and Fail-Negative versus Success-Positive (p <.001). For the IRAP postintervention, the same comparisons again proved significant: Fail-Negative versus Fail-Positive (p <. 001) and Fail-Negative versus Success-Positive ip =.001). In addition, two further comparisons were also significant: Fail-Positive versus Success-Negative (p <. 001) and Fail-Positive versus Success-Positive p < .001). The findings for comparisons involving the Fail-Positive trial type are consistent with the large postintervention negative feelings bias effect visible for this trial type, and this pattern is likely also a key contributor to the significant trial type by time interaction. Bonferroni adjusted paired samples t-tests comparing performance pre- and postintervention showed significant differences in the case of both the Fail-Positive (t[28] = 9.322, p < .001) and Success-Positive (t[28] = -3.014, p = .005) trial types.

IRAP trial-type one-sample f-tests Each of the trial-type scores both pre- and post- for each of the two groups was subjected to a one sample f-test (Bonferroni adjusted). The Success-Positive trial type for the Control group was significant both preintervention, t(14) = 3.767 ip =.002, d = .97), and postintervention, t(14) = 3.737 ip =.002, d = .96); in other words, this group responded that success is positive both pre- and postintervention. Apart from this, nothing else was significant preintervention for either group. At postintervention, however, the FailurePositive trial type was significant for both the Control group, t(14) = -6.302 ip < .001, d = -1.63) and the Defusion group, t(13) = -6.941 p < .001, d = -1.86); in other words, following the failure task (and subsequent intervention) both groups responded that failure is not positive.

Explicit Measures

The Analog IRAP scale The ratings obtained from the Analog IRAP were used to calculate four separate scores, analogous to the four IRAP trial-type scores. The ratings for the items that targeted negative feelings were reversed (e.g., a score of 7 was rescored as 1) so that all positive scores indicated a positive bias and all negative scores indicated a negative bias. For purposes of graphical representation in a format analogous to that for the IRAP scores (and as previously carried out by Bast & Barnes-Holmes, 2015a, 2015b), responses on this 7-point scale were recoded to range from -3 (instead of 1) to +3 (instead of 7).

Mean scores analyses The overall mean ratings obtained from the Analog IRAP both pre- and postintervention are presented in Fig. 3. In both pre- and postintervention phases, mean scores within both groups support the idea that failure produces negative feelings and success positive feelings. A 2 (groups) * 2 (time) * 4 (trial type) repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA), showed a significant effect for trial type (F[1.715, 46.317] = 162.043,p< .001, [[eta].sub.p.sup.2] = -857). No other main or interaction effects were found. Bonferroni adjusted pairwise comparison analysis showed significant differences between all trial types.

IRAP Analog trial-type one-sample t tests One sample f-tests were conducted on each of the four trial types at both pre- and postintervention for all trial types and for both control and defusion groups. Bonferroni adjusted results showed a pattern of significant effects (ps < .001) for all trial types with one exception, which was in the case of the postintervention Failure-Negative trial type for the Defusion group. This latter result indicated that Failure was no longer significantly rated as negative for the Defusion group following the intervention.

Implicit-Explicit Correlations

In each of two separate analyses for the Control and Defusion groups, the eight D-IRAP scores were entered into a correlation matrix with the eight Analog IRAP scores. Following Bonferroni correction, no implicit-explicit correlations were found in either case.


The aim of this study was to use the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) and an explicit IRAP analog measure to examine attitudes to success and failure following perceived failure on an insoluble task as well as the potentially moderating effect of a defusion intervention on responding in this context. Participants were first assessed for implicit (IRAP-based) and explicit (IRAP analog-based) responding. They were then exposed to the insoluble task, during and after which they reported their reactions to this task. They were subsequently assigned to hear either a defusion or control audio recording and were reexposed to the implicit and explicit measures.

One of the most clear-cut results, based on both the ANOVA and one-sample t tests was a change for both defusion and control groups on the IRAP Failure-Positive trial type wherein participants went from neutral responding on this trial type (prefailure task/intervention) to strong denial that Failure is positive (postfailure task/intervention). Apart from this, the IRAP also registered a pre- to postdifference on the Success-Positive trial type wherein participants across both groups became significantly more likely to affirm that Success is Positive. The pattern seen suggests that failure on the insoluble task produced these changes in both groups. The fact that the IRAP showed sensitivity in these respects whereas the IRAP analog did not appear to do so demonstrates a divergence between the implicit (time-pressured) relational responding measure and the explicit (non-time-pressured) responding measure. More important, it provides additional evidence of the potential for the IRAP to uncover patterns of responding to which explicit measures may be insensitive. As suggested in the introduction, there are various reasons that explicit measures may not be the best gauges of self-forgiveness; however, this is an important pattern of behavior, in particular in the applied clinical context, and if an alternative protocol such as the IRAP can facilitate more accurate measurement of this pattern then this is an important advantage of such a protocol. Apart from this, the fact that both groups (Defusion and Control) showed these patterns suggests that the defusion intervention did not appear to affect responding in this context.

Two other patterns were discernible from the IRAP output. One was the significant effect for the Success-Positive trial type for the control group both prefailure task/intervention and postfailure task/intervention. This pattern is not surprising because indeed the relationship between success and positive emotion is strongly supported within our culture (see, e.g., Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). Although results on this trial type were non-significant in the case of the Defusion group, they still leaned strongly in the predicted direction both pre- and postintervention (in both cases testing was nonsignificant only following Bonferroni correction). Furthermore, the suggestion of a link between success and positive emotion is also reflected by the pre- to postdifference on the Success-Positive trial type wherein participants across both groups became significantly more likely to affirm that success is positive following the experience of failure.

The other noticeable IRAP output pattern was the difference between performance on the Failure-Negative trial type and that of other trial types, which was seen both prefailure task/intervention and postfailure task/intervention. This is interesting but in fact it reflects not so much an unusual pattern on the Failure-Negative trial type itself but actually slightly divergent patterns both pre- and post- for the Failure-Positive trial type. For the pre-task/intervention exposure, the Failure-Negative trial type is in a predictable direction (i.e., it reflects the response that failure leads to negative emotion) whereas it is the Failure-Positive trial type that leans in a counterintuitive direction (i.e., that failure leads to positive emotion). This divergence is why Failure-Negative is detected as significantly different from Failure-Positive. Meantime, the difference between Failure-Negative and the Success-Positive trial type is understandable because performance on the latter is in a predictable direction (i.e., responding that success leads to positive emotions).

Hence, pre-task/intervention, the Failure-Positive trial type is the only one that runs counter to a predictable pattern. Of course, it should also be noted that although this unusual pattern of responding was seen in the ANOVA results, it was not confirmed by the one sample t-test, wherein the only significant result pre-task/intervention was the predictable result that "success is positive" (on the part of the control group as discussed). Nevertheless, accepting the ANOVA results at face value, this outcome is somewhat similar to one seen in previous research by Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015b) in which trial types that focused on "success" for both feeling and outcome IRAPs were broadly consistent with "commonsense" conclusions but effects for the trial types that focused on "failure" were more complex and counterintuitive. In that article, Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015b) suggested that one possible reason that the Failure-Positive trial type can lead to unusual responding is that being asked whether failure leads to positive outcomes is a relatively unusual question and hence responding to it has not been well-established and participants may not respond as predictably as in the case of other question types. This is certainly a possibility and one that might be followed up on in further research. For example, perhaps the extent to which participants are induced to think about the relationship between failure and positive outcomes or feelings might be deliberately manipulated before exposure to an IRAP similar to that used here so as to gauge whether additional exposure to this juxtaposition might influence patterns of responding.

In the case of post-task/intervention IRAP testing, the significant difference between the Failure-Negative trial type and other trial types can be understood in an analogous manner to that for the pre-task/intervention IRAP. The difference with the Success-Positive trial type is predictable because participants might be expected to respond more positively to Success. The more unusual difference is with the other failure trial type (i.e., Failure-Positive). As has already been discussed, the results of the IRAP post task/intervention based on both ANOVA as well as one sample t testing show strong denial that failure is positive and, as suggested, this result is something that points to the IRAP's sensitivity to the experience of failure in the insoluble task. At the same time, it is less obvious why responding on the Failure-Negative trial type did not show the same level of change following the failure task. For example, it might be asked why participants did not respond much more strongly that Failure is Negative. As previously discussed, perhaps the unusual juxtaposition of failure and a positive emotional outcome might make the Failure-Positive trial type unusual and perhaps in the post-task case this aspect may have interacted with the experience of failure to make this trial type particularly responsive to this failure. Once again, such a possibility might be examined in further work.

The findings for both the Failure-Positive and Success-Positive trial types on the IRAP suggest the malleability of IRAP responding under particular circumstances. This adds to previous data showing the potential malleability of such responding (e.g., Cullen, Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes & Stewart, 2009. Apart from this, to the extent that these data show the effect of previous experiences associated with failure they might be compared with the findings of Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015b), who showed that emotional "priming" (involving the description of either previous successes or failures) did not seem to affect performance on a "feelings" IRAP identical to that used in the present study. This might seem to contrast with the results of the present study in which a failure priming procedure did seem to have an influence. However, the priming protocol used in Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015b) simply involved recalling historical failures whereas the "failure induction" protocol used in the present study involved an in-situ task on which participants perceived themselves to fail. As suggested in the introduction, currently experienced failure might have greater psychological impact than remembered failure and this might be responsible for the difference in outcome. One other notable finding of Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015b) that may be relevant with respect to the findings of the present study was a significant correlation between the score on the Fail-Positive Feelings IRAP trial type and an explicit measure of self-compassion, which resonates with the fact that in the present study this trial type was one of two affected by the failure induction task.

With regard to the results of explicit testing in the present study, the ANOVA for the IRAP analog showed significant differences between trial types but no effect of either time or group. This might suggest a lack of sensitivity to the effects of the failure task, which, as discussed previously, contrasts with the IRAP, which did seem to register such effects. At the same time, it might also be a function of the particular failure task employed. Perhaps this task might be argued to be too artificial or unconvincing to affect at least some participants and this is why the effect was not more strongly registered on the explicit measure. In counterpoint, previous studies have used a version of this task to successfully induce learned helplessness as well as nonclinical depressive and paranoid responding (e.g., Bodner & Mikulincer, 1998; Ellett & Chadwick, 2007; Hiroto & Seligman, 1975), which points to its potential efficacy. Nevertheless, alternative failure induction tasks might have produced stronger patterns of responding. On a more general note, there is also a question regarding the extent to which any laboratory type task can produce an experience of psychologically meaningful failure or success. In that respect, the priming procedure used by Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015a, 2015b) at least attempts to draw on the latter, but as discussed above, this protocol also has its disadvantages.

One-sample Mests of IRAP Analog trial types might be argued to point to an additional insight not provided by the ANOVA. These tests showed significant effects for both groups and for all trial types both pre- and post-task/intervention, but with one exception in the case of the post-task/intervention Failure-Negative trial type for the Defusion group. This accords with the suggestion that the defusion intervention might have moderated the effect of task failure. If taken at face value, this finding would constitute potential evidence of the effectiveness of defusion in the context of perceived failure. However, because this pattern is derived from the outcome of one-sample t-tests only, without the support of the ANOVA, this is at best a tentative suggestion. Apart from this, the present study also investigated possible correlations between the key implicit (IRAP) and explicit (IRAP analog) measures employed. No such correlations were seen, which, in common with the pattern of results discussed earlier, further implies a divergence between implicit and explicit measures.

The current IRAP findings seem to suggest that defusion may not affect implicit responding. However, prior evidence suggests that in particular contexts it can do so. Kishita, Muto, Otsuki, and Barnes-Holmes (2014) randomly assigned 24 students with high social anxiety to either a Defusion or a Control condition. Participants completed a self-report measure of the believability of anxiety-related thoughts as well as an IRAP targeting anxiety before and after the interventions. Findings showed significant decreases in response latency on the IRAP for both consistent and inconsistent trials in the Defusion condition only. Hence, this contrasts with present findings. Nevertheless, there were several differences between Kishita et al. and the present study that might account for this. Apart from differences in the target population (nonclinical vs. subclinical) and target phenomenon (anxiety vs. self-forgiveness) the defusion interventions also differed in that, although both included a hierarchical framing component, the Kishita et al. intervention included an additional word-repetition protocol and was completely delivered by the experimenter as opposed to relayed via audio recording in the present study. Further work is needed to explore the circumstances under which defusion interventions are more or less likely to affect clinically relevant implicit responding. With respect to the influence of defusion on implicit self-forgiveness in particular, one other variable concerns the way in which self-forgiveness has been conceptualized in the current study, as responses to successes and failings in terms of emotional reactions (i.e., good vs. bad feelings). Perhaps defusion might not be as important for self-forgiveness conceptualized in this way. Further work modelling self-forgiveness processes more comprehensively may shed additional light in this respect.

The current study has shown that the IRAP, as an RFT-inspired measure of relational framing "in flight," adapted in this case specifically to measure self-forgiveness, is sensitive to an experience of apparent failure. As previously discussed, this extends the work of Bast and Barnes-Holmes (2015a, 2015b) and provides further evidence of the utility of using an RFT and in particular IRAP-based approach to investigate self-forgiveness. This study also investigated the effect of defusion or perspective taking on self-forgiveness at both the implicit and explicit levels but, although finding some tentative evidence of an effect with respect to the latter level, it did not appear to find strongly convincing evidence of an effect at either level. Apart from the findings with respect to the processes under investigation themselves (i.e., self-forgiveness, defusion/perspective taking) this study also represents an advance in that it provides an illustration of how an RFT analysis of human psychological processes facilitates the functional analytic investigation of those processes and how RFT-inspired experimental methods are being brought to bear in the investigation of key psychological phenomena in psychology in general and in psychotherapy in particular.

One possible limitation of the present study is the fact that there were high attrition levels; in particular, of the 51 participants who completed the experiment, data could only be used in the case of 29 of them. The relatively higher level of attrition was likely primarily due to the employment of two separate stages of IRAP testing (i.e., at both pre- and post-failure task/intervention), combined with the administration of a number of other measures that may have helped to hamper performance in the second IRAP in particular. Indeed, 15 of 22 participants failed the criterion in the second IRAP, which supports this point. In the present study all measures were taken in one session, which increases the chances that participants might be tired or inattentive during the second IRAP administration and thus one option for further work in this vein involving presentation of two IRAPs might be running two sessions, and perhaps allowing for longer practice if need be during at least one of those sessions to boost performance. On a separate point, the fact that the IRAP was administered more than once might also be argued to be potentially relevant with respect to (and in particular that it might act to reduce) its capacity to be sensitive to the effects of defusion. However, Kishita et al. (2014) also administered the IRAP more than once and did detect an influence of defusion, which undermines this argument.

The present findings suggest several directions for future work. The apparent divergence between the findings for the measures of implicit and explicit responding such that only the former was influenced by the experience of failure is intriguing and deserves additional exploration. This paradigm might be further investigated but using alternative implicit or explicit measures (e.g., the IRAP used in Bast & Barnes-Holmes, 2014), failure tasks (e.g., perhaps with feedback showing underperformance with respect to the norm) and/or perspective-taking methods (e.g., the more elaborate protocol employed by Kishita et al., 2014). Perhaps the effects of a "pure" perspective taking intervention might be compared with those of a conventional self-forgiveness intervention (e.g., Hall & Fincham, 2005) to examine whether the latter might be more beneficial; the more central the role played by perspective taking in self-forgiveness, the less the predicted difference in outcome. Future work might perhaps also deploy the present paradigm with subclinical populations (e.g., those scoring higher than average on depression or anxiety) or, on the other hand, among those scoring higher on trait acceptance or who have had prolonged training in mindfulness or perspective-taking skills, to investigate for similar or divergent outcome patterns.

In summary, patterns of IRAP responding following the failure task suggested that participants were reacting to the failure task and in particular that they were reacting by strongly denying that failure leads to positive emotions. The fact that performance on the failure/success feelings IRAP used in the present study could be affected by an experimental manipulation in this way seemed to differ from the results of previous research which included priming. However, a key difference in the present study was the use of an in-situ failure task, which may have made the difference. Meantime, the failure task did not appear to affect explicit responding as assessed by the IRAP analog. There is some tentative evidence that the latter might have shown a difference between the groups that the IRAP did not, namely a possible effect of the defusion intervention such that Failure-Negative trial type responding went from significantly different from zero pre-task/intervention to not significantly different post-task/intervention; however, the evidence for this was weak. This study further extends the use of the IRAP as a means of exploring potentially important aspects of self-forgiveness such as acknowledgement of and attitudes towards failure. It has shown the potential of the IRAP and RFT more broadly to shed light on these phenomena beyond that which might result from the use of more conventional methodologies and approaches, respectively, and in that sense provides a foundation for new research directions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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[mail] Diana Ferroni-Bast

Diana Ferroni-Bast (1)(iD), Jane Fitzpatrick (1), Ian Stewart, Celso Goyos (2)

(1) School of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway, Republic of Ireland

(2) Federal University of Sao Carlos, Sao Carlos, Brazil

Published online: 29 July 2019

Caption: Fig. 1. A schematic representation of the four IRAP trial types

Caption: Fig. 2. Mean D-IRAP trial type scores (including standard error bars) for negative and positive feelings in response to failures and successes. Negative and positive scores indicate negatively and positively emotionally biased responding respectively. The labels FN, FP, SN and SP indicate the Failure Negative, Failure Positive, Success Negative and Success Positive trial types respectively whereas the numbers 1 and 2 denote the first and second IRAP exposures respectively. Asterisks denote (Bonferroni-adjusted) significant results

Caption: Fig. 3. Mean IRAP analog trial type scores (including standard error bars) for negative and positive feelings in response to failures and successes. Negative and positive scores indicate negatively and positively emotionally biased responding respectively. The labels FN, FP, SN and SP indicate the Failure Negative, Failure Positive, Success Negative and Success Positive trial types respectively whereas the numbers 1 and 2 denote the first and second IRAP analog exposures respectively. Asterisks denote (Bonferroni-adjusted) significant results
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Author:Ferroni-Bast, Diana; Fitzpatrick, Jane; Stewart, Ian; Goyos, Celso
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Date:Dec 1, 2019
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