Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) as a Measure of Spider Fear, Avoidance, and Approach

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) as a Measure of Spider Fear, Avoidance, and Approach

Article excerpt

One of the ways in which behavior-analytic researchers have interpreted and studied human language and cognition is through an account known as Relational Frame Theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001). The core analytic units of this theory are labelled relational frames, and one of the key properties of these units is the derived transformation of functions. This property is used to describe and explain response patterns that emerge in the absence of direct or explicit learning histories (see Hughes, De Houwer, & Barnes-Holmes, 2016, for a recent detailed review). A simple example of the derived transformation of functions would first involve training a series of matching responses among arbitrary stimuli, such as Cug-Vek and Vek-Yim, and testing for derived relations to confirm that the three stimuli now participate in a relational frame of equivalence or coordination (e.g., the participant may match Cug to Yim and Yim to Cug in the absence of direct training, prompting or instruction). To observe the transformation of functions, a particular response to Cug might be established through direct pairing with a negatively valenced stimulus, for example, and then a similar response would be observed for Yim although it had not been paired directly with a negatively valenced event.

Over 20 years ago behavioral researchers began to use the derived transformation of functions as a paradigm to explore how verbally-able humans come to fear and avoid stimuli in the absence of direct stimulus pairings or differential reinforcement. Some studies, for example, established frames of coordination among arbitrary stimuli and then paired one or more of the stimuli in the frame with the presentation of mild electric shock. Various measures of fear, including skin conductance responses (SCRs), indicated increased levels of fear to the stimuli that had been directly paired with shock and those that were indirectly related to those stimuli via the frame of coordination (Dougher, Augustson, Markham, Greenway, & Wulfert, 1994). Similar derived transformation effects were also demonstrated for the extinction of fear responses (Dougher, et al., 1994) and also avoidance responding (Augustson & Dougher, 1997).

Recent research on the derived transformation of functions has begun to explore the functional independence of derived fear and avoidance. Specifically, one study by Luciano, et al. (2013) established a fear response for a stimulus using a respondent conditioning paradigm and electric shock as a UCS, and then demonstrated the derived transformation of that function to other stimuli that participated in a frame of equivalence. In effect, the researchers provided matching-to-sample training designed to establish an equivalence relation among six stimuli (A-B-C-D-E-F) and, when the A and B stimuli were paired with shock, the E and F stimuli also elicited fear, although they were never directly paired with shock. Subsequently, the fear responses were extinguished for both the respondently conditioned stimuli, and the other members of the equivalence class, by presenting the directly conditioned stimuli in the absence of shock. Critically, however, participants continued to engage in avoidance responding even though the fear had been extinguished (i.e., as measured by skin conductance). In effect, avoidance continued in the apparent absence of fear. In a broadly similar study, Luciano et al. (2014) demonstrated again that it was possible to establish a derived transformation of fear and avoidance functions via equivalence relations, but this time they did not employ an extinction procedure. Rather they presented an analogue intervention based on acceptance and commitment therapy, which they labelled a defusion protocol. Participants exposed to this protocol continued to show fear responses (as measured using skin conductance) but avoidance responses dropped to near zero. In this second study, therefore, fear continued in the absence of avoidance. …

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