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Counterfactual thinking and repetitive thought in social anxiety

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posted on 22.05.2021, 14:59 by Jennifer Monforton
Research suggests that those experiencing Social Anxiety (SA) symptoms are more likely to engage in repetitive thought (RT), including upward counterfactual thinking (U-CFT). Findings indicate that these cognitive patterns may lead to deleterious thoughts and emotions, particularly when U-CFT focuses on non-repeatable, uncontrollable situations and negative self-appraisals. The present dissertation consisted of two complementary studies. Study 1 attempted to 1) validate new measures of state and trait U-CFT, 2) examine the relationship between U-CFT and established measures of RT and mood, and 3) explore the relationship between SA symptoms and counterfactual thinking within a student population. Results indicated that the U-CFT-S (trait measure of U-CFT) and the Counterfactual Likelihood scales (state measure of U-CFT) evidenced sound psychometrics in terms of internal consistency, factor structure, and relationships with related questionnaires. Factor analyses revealed that the Maladaptive U-CFT-S scale clustered with negative mood, rumination, and learned helplessness, while the Adaptive U-CFT subscale clustered with measures of positive mood and self-efficacy. Finally, symptoms of SA correlated positively with state and trait U-CFT generation. Study 2 1) compared patterns of U-CFT and emotions such as guilt and self-blame between a diagnosed Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) group and a Healthy Control (HC) group 2) determined if disorder-specific content impacts U-CFT generation, and 3) piloted a brief, CBT-based, video intervention targeting maladaptive U-CFT. Results indicated that the SAD group evidenced higher amounts of U-CFT in response to the socially-based scenarios than the HC group and in response to social than non-social scenarios. The SAD group evidenced higher levels of unhelpful emotions (e.g., guilt) both pre- and post-CFT generation than HC participants. Finally, the CBT intervention was generally unsuccessful at reducing maladaptive U-CFT, but was more likely to be effective among SAD than HC participants. Implications of this dissertation include: 1) the benefit of including state- and trait-based measures of U-CFT in future research, 2) the importance of conceptualizing U-CFT as a multifaceted construct, 3) addressing that those with SAD are engaging in maladaptive U-CFT and experiencing consequent guilt and self-blame, and 4) the direction of creating more comprehensive, brief interventions aimed at targeting maladaptive U-CFT.





Doctor of Philosophy



Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type