Irrational Beliefs, Thought Suppression and Distress - a Mediation Analysis

By Szentagotai, Aurora | Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies, September 2006 | Go to article overview
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Irrational Beliefs, Thought Suppression and Distress - a Mediation Analysis

Szentagotai, Aurora, Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies


The present study is an investigation of the relationship between irrational beliefs and thought suppression in predicting distress in cancer patients. While there is a significant amount of data supporting their role as vulnerability factors for distress, no attempts have been made so far to study the relationships between these two individual characteristics. Our results show that both irrational beliefs and thought suppression are related to distress, and that the impact of irrational beliefs on distress is completely mediated by thought suppression. Potential mechanisms and implications are discussed.

Key words: thought suppression, irrational beliefs, distress

The role of cognition in producing and influencing human emotional responses has long been established beyond shadow of a doubt, with numerous studies showing that what (cognitive contents) and how (cognitive strategies and processes) we think has a direct impact on what we feel (Lazarus, 1991; Lazarus & Smith, 1998). However, theoretical models differ with respect to the type of cognition they emphasize, some focusing on our representations of reality (inferences, descriptions, attributions) (Beck, 1979; Schachter & Singer, 1962), others on the appraisals/evaluations of representations (how they are processed in terms of their relevance for personal well-being) (Ellis, 1994; Lazarus & Smith, 1998), and others on unconscious information processing (David & Szentagotai, 2006). While the combination of these approaches offers a comprehensive picture of our emotional life, recent research data points to the crucial role of evaluative beliefs in emotion formation, being widely accepted that as long as representations remain unevaluated, they are insufficient to produce emotions (Lazarus, 1991; Lazarus & Smith, 1988). This approach makes it easy to understand why people react differently to the same event.

Rational versus irrational beliefs

Albert Ellis's (1962, 1994) concepts of rational and irrational beliefs (RBs and IBs) refer to such evaluative cognitions, which are considered to be important cognitive resilience/vulnerability factors. They can predict both how individuals emotionally react to stressful events, as well as their specific inferences, descriptions, attributions during these events (Dryden, Ferguson, & Clarck, 1989; Dryden, Ferguson, & Hilton, 1989; Dryden, Ferguson, & McTeague, 1989). While rational beliefs are pragmatic, logical, reality-based and flexible, irrational beliefs are non-pragmatic, in that they prevent people from achieving their goals, illogical, non-reality based and rigid.

There are four categories of irrational cognitive processes (IBs): (1) demandingness (refers to absolutistic requirements expressed in the form of "musts" and "shoulds"); (2) awfulizing (AWF) (the belie f that a situation is more than 100% bad, and that it is worse than it absolutely should be); (3) low frustration tolerance (LFT) (the person believes that she will not be able to endure situations or to have any happiness at all, if what she demands should not exist, actually exists); (4) global evaluation of human worth and self-downing (SD) (the person tends to be excessively critical of herself, and to make global evaluations of herself and the others). These irrational beliefs may refer to: one's performance, other people, and/or life conditions and cover several content areas: affiliation, approval, achievement, comfort, fairness, and control (David, Szentagotai, Kallay, & Macavei, 2005). The counterparts of irrational beliefs are rational beliefs: (1) full preference rather than demands; (2) non-awfulizing beliefs and moderate evaluations of badness; (3) high frustration tolerance beliefs and (4) acceptance of fallibility and evaluation of specific performance rather than global evaluation of human worth and self-downing (Dryden, 2003).

Research shows that while rational beliefs are associated with healthy/functional emotional reactions during stressful events (e.

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Irrational Beliefs, Thought Suppression and Distress - a Mediation Analysis


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