Sponsored by the HealthcareTrainingInstitute.org providing Quality Education since 1979
Add to Shopping Cart

Enhancing Your Therapy with Gestalt Approaches
Gestalt Therapy continuing education psychology CEUs

Section 24
Examining Gestalt Consistency Principles
in Objective Self-Awareness Theory

CEU Question 24
| CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents
| Gestalt
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

The original statement of OSA theory (Duval & Wicklund, 1972) employed only a few constructs, relations, and processes. The theory assumed that the orientation of conscious attention was the essence of self-evaluation. Focusing attention on the self brought about objective self-awareness, which initiated an automatic comparison of the self against standards. The self was defined very broadly as the person's knowledge of the person. A standard was "defined as a mental representation of correct behavior, attitudes, and traits ... All of the standards of correctness taken together define what a 'correct' person is" (Duval & Wicklund, 1972, pp. 3, 4). This simple system consisting of self, standards, and attentional focus was assumed to operate according to gestalt consistency principles (Heider, 1960). If a discrepancy was found between self and standards, negative affect was said to arise. This aversive state then motivated the restoration of consistency. Two behavioral routes were proposed. People could either actively change their actions, attitudes, or traits to be more congruent with the representations of the standard or could avoid the self-focusing stimuli and circumstances. Avoidance effectively terminates the comparison process and hence all self-evaluation. Early research found solid support for these basic ideas (Carver, 1975; Gibbons & Wicklund, 1976; Wicklund & Duval, 1971). Duval and Wicklund (1972) also assumed that objective self-awareness would generally be an aversive state--the probability that at least one self-standard discrepancy exists is quite high. This was the first assumption to be revised. Later work found that self-awareness can be a positive state when people are congruent with their standards (Greenberg & Musham, 1981; Ickes, Wicklund, & Ferris, 1973).

Functions of Affect in Self-Awareness Processes: An unresolved theoretical issue concerns the role of affect in self-awareness processes. Three general positions can be found. The first position, which is found in the original OSA theory (Duval & Wicklund, 1972; Wicklund, 1975), assumes that the negative affect created by self-standard discrepancies has a motivational character. Consistent with its roots in gestalt views of motivation (Heider, 1960) and past consistency theories (Festinger, 1957; Heider, 1958), the proposition of the model is that affect provided the energy and the incentive for the restoration of the preferred state of self-standard identity. A second position assumes that affect has an informational or monitoring function (Carver & Scheier, 1998). This view has its roots in cybernetic models of how action is controlled by online performance feedback (Miller et al., 1960). Affect serves this feedback function by indexing the velocity of goal progress. A third position is simply the view that discrepancies create affect but that the affect has no stated implications for later discrepancy reduction. In self-discrepancy theory, for example, it is unclear what functions anxiety, dejection, and so on serve in subsequent regulation (Higgins, 1987).

As before, the conflict within the broader area of inquiry implicates self-awareness theory. Emotion psychologists have always argued over the functions of affect. The prevailing position, proposed by Darwin (1872/1998) and promulgated primarily by Tomkins (1962,1981,1991) and his students (Izard, 1971, 1977), is that emotions motivate action. This broad notion is not very controversial: Ekman and Davidson (1994) listed "emotions have motivational properties" as one of the few things that "most students of emotion agree about" (p. 412), but it is not always clear what is meant by "motivation." Some theories assume that the motivating character of affect lies in its prioritizing effects (Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1996; Tomkins, 1991). By adding incentive to one of many possible actions, emotions enable important adaptive activity in the face of other attractive possibilities. Other theories assume that emotions provide the energetic "oomph" toward a single action (Frijda, 1986). Emotions, in this view, are motivational because they direct and energize single adaptive actions. In addition, of course, there are theories that eschew motivation and instead argue for informational functions of affect. Carver and Scheier (1990,1998), for example, argued that affect is the output function of a system that monitors that rate of progress toward a goal. Affect thus indicates rather than motivates the intensity of activity. Batson, Shaw, and Oleson (1992) also argued that emotions are capable of amplifying motivational states, but they primarily give information about what is valued and preferred.

From this variety of perspectives, we are inclined toward the motivational position. There are certainly merits to the informational position advanced by Carver and Scheier (1990,1998). Affect processes dovetail seamlessly into their broader model of feedback and action control and can thus provide an internally consistent account of how emotions organize activity. Yet a considerable body of data supports the general view that emotions motivate activity, particularly the appearance of emotions before advanced cognition in infancy (Izard, 1978), the obvious motivating effects of emotions in cognitively simple animals (Darwin, 1872/1998), the links between emotional processes and incentive systems in the brain (Panksepp, 1998), and broad relations between emotions and autonomic activity (Levenson, 1992). With regard to self-awareness processes more specifically, there is a lot of support for the gestalt model of consistency motivation (Heider, 1960). The motivating character of cognitive dissonance, for example, is pretty well established (Elliot & Devine, 1994; Wicklund & Brehm, 1976). It seems reasonable that essentially similar self-standard consistency processes would have similar dynamic underpinnings. We thus view the informational model as serving a useful heuristic function within the cybernetic metaphor and the motivation model as more reflective of actual affect dynamics.

Automatic and Controlled Activity: Contemporary research commonly distinguishes different forms of thinking and acting, such as automatic versus controlled (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977), mindless and mindful (Langer, 1978), and so forth. This distinction is central to recent theories of automatic activity (e.g., Bargh & Chartrand, 1999), which assume that behavior will be automatically guided by primed stereotypes and associations unless it is interrupted or otherwise regulated (Macrae & Johnston, 1998). Dijksterhuis and van Knippenberg (2000) extended this reasoning to objective self-awareness. They suggested that focusing attention on the self can break automatic links between priming and behavior because highly self-aware people consciously consider different action possibilities instead automatically following primed associations. Two studies found that persons low in self-focus showed the usual automaticity effects--for example, writing more garrulous essays after a "politician prime"--whereas highly self-aware persons were unaffected by priming manipulations (Dijksterhuis & van Knippenberg, 2000).

Yet we suggest that the correspondence between automatic versus controlled processing and subjective versus objective self-awareness is not as tidy as some might think. Although much activity in the subjective state is probably habitual and conducted without concern for one's standards, the objective state itself displays important aspects of automaticity. Objective self-awareness is not a dispassionate, reflective state in which people appraise the situation and then select a course of action. Focusing attention on the self is assumed to initiate an automatic process that compares the self against one or more standards. By automatic we mean that the comparison process occurs spontaneously and is not easily controlled or regulated by conscious, deliberate thought processes. Indeed, these comparisons need not occur consciously or involve standards that are themselves accessible to conscious awareness. This comparison process is assumed to follow gestalt consistency principles (Heider, 1960). The self-organizing nature of the comparison system is thus inherent in the system and might potentially be impervious to conscious circumvention (cf. Koffka, 1935; Wertheimer, 1945).

Research on self-awareness in clinical disorders shows how impenetrable this automatic evaluation process can be. Self-awareness is implicated in a broad range of clinical problems (see Wells & Matthews, 1994), many of which involve unfavorable self-evaluations. People suffering from depression and social anxiety, for example, often experience automatic negative thoughts about the self. Intensive therapy is needed to regulate these spontaneous evaluations and attributions. It is noteworthy that successful therapies cope with this problem by changing the unrealistic standards involved in the comparison process or by regulating the self-evaluation after the fact, as in reframing (e.g., Beck, 1967; Wells & Matthews, 1994). Actually inhibiting or preventing the comparison process appears to be difficult.

We suggest that different forms of information processing are relevant to objective self-awareness, but that the processes described by OSA theory do not neatly assimilate into these categories. OSA might derail automatic effects on behavior, though not because it invokes a conscious, reflective mode of processing. Instead, it changes what is important to people by diverting attention to an unresolved discrepancy and arousing motivation to do something about it (Silvia & Gendolla, in press). Certainly the automatic effects observed thus far have been emotionally neutral and self-irrelevant--and hence less important--than typical self-standard discrepancies. We have yet to see, for instance, automatic rejection of one's ambitions or interpersonal ostracization as a result of priming. Yet the intersections to date are intriguing, and more thought should be devoted to how automaticity and self-standard comparison interlock.
- Silvia, Paul J.; Duval, T. Shelley; Objective Self-Awareness Theory: Recent Progress and Enduring Problems; Personality & Social Psychology Review, 2001, Vol. 5 Issue 3
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #10
The preceding section contained information about examining Gestalt consistency principles in Objective Self-Awareness theory.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 24
According to OSA Theory and Gestalt views of motivation, how is negative affect created by self-standard discrepancies motivational? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

Others who bought this Gestalt Course
also bought…

Scroll DownScroll UpCourse Listing Bottom Cap

CEU Answer Booklet for this course | Gestalt
Forward to Section 25
Back to Section 23
Table of Contents

Latina/o adolescents’ family undocumented-status disclosures directed at school counselors: A latent transition analysis. - April 19, 2018
For adolescents from undocumented families, school counselors may serve as a resource to draw upon for support should the adolescents decide to disclose their family status. In this study, we identified psychological factors that were associated with adolescents’ decisions to disclose (or not) their own or a family member’s undocumented status to a counselor and examined corresponding mental health implications. Utilizing latent transition analyses with a sample of 410 Latina/o immigrant high school students, four profiles emerged in Wave 1: (1) indifferent nondisclosers, (2) concerned revealers, (3) anxious revealers, and (4) secure revealers. By Wave 2, we identified the same profiles, except anxious revealers were no longer present, and anxious nondisclosers emerged as a new profile. At Wave 3, we only identified three profiles: (1) indifferent nondisclosers (2), concerned revealers, and (3) anxious revealers. As Latina/o immigrant students experienced greater fear of deportation in the middle and end of the year, they were more likely to be concerned revealers (i.e., reporting moderate perceived risk of disclosing, low communication efficacy, and moderate levels of disclosure) compared with most profiles. Anxious revealers reported higher levels of depressive symptoms than several other profiles in the beginning of the year, and concerned revealers reported higher levels of depressive symptoms than several other profiles in the middle and end of the year. This study emphasizes the importance of considering the diverse experiences of family undocumented adolescents, and it sheds light on the extent to which family undocumented adolescents confide in a counselor. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
An examination of the Psychology of Working Theory with racially and ethnically diverse employed adults. - April 19, 2018
The present study tested key tenets of the Psychology of Working Theory (PWT) in a sample of 526 racially and ethnically diverse employed adults. The authors investigated how economic resources and marginalization predicted decent work through experiences of work volition and career adaptability. Support for the hypotheses was mixed. There was a direct, negative relation between marginalization and decent work; a direct, positive relation between economic resources and work volition; and a direct, negative relation between marginalization and work volition. There was a positive relation between work volition and career adaptability as well as with decent work. Work volition was also found to significantly mediate the relations between marginalization and economic resources to decent work. These results suggest that the primary reason why greater economic resources and lower experiences of marginalization predict engaging in decent work is attributable to an increased sense of choice in one’s career decision making. Results suggest the need for further investigation using the PWT to understand how racially and ethnically diverse employed adults secure decent work. Practical implications are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Testing the predictions of the existential constructivist theory of suicide in a college student sample. - April 19, 2018
There is a lack of empirically supported theories explaining suicidal ideation and few theories describe how suicidal ideation can be prevented in the context of normative human development. Rogers (2001) proposed an existential constructivist theory of suicide (ECTS) wherein existential distress and the inability to reconstruct meaning from adverse life events contribute to suicidal ideation. The ECTS includes a distinct focus on meaning reconstruction from adverse life events, which is congruent with existing research on college students and developmental frameworks used by counseling psychologists. Thus, in the present study, we tested the predictions of the ECTS in a college student sample. We collected data online from 195 college students (i.e., ages 18–25) attending a large, Midwestern university and analyzed the data using structural equation modeling. Findings provided partial support for the original ECTS. Post hoc analyses of an alternate ECTS model indicated that existential distress mediated the negative association between meaning reconstruction and suicidal ideation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Transgender people of color’s experiences of sexual objectification: Locating sexual objectification within a matrix of domination. - April 19, 2018
The purpose of this grounded theory study was to investigate transgender people of color’s (TPOC’s) sexual objectification experiences (SOEs). Fifteen TPOC were interviewed about their experiences with sexual objectification. Using intersectionality and objectification theories as our research paradigms, results suggested that participants’ SOEs were shaped by the intersections of cissexism, sexism, and racism, and that participants experienced various levels of privilege and oppression based on their specific identities. Results revealed similarities with previous sexual objectification research as well as unique sexual objectification experiences for TPOC, including racialized sexual objectification, fetishization, genital- and gender transition-based comments, and body policing. Results also suggested that self-objectification may manifest as a desire to affirm one’s gender identity and result in physical safety anxiety. TPOC may engage in body surveillance to achieve transgender congruence and reduce potential victimization experiences. Mental health practitioners are encouraged to attend to how intersections of cissexism, sexism, and racism may encourage SOEs, and the ways in which such experiences may impact TPOC. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Predicting PTSD severity from experiences of trauma and heterosexism in lesbian and bisexual women: A longitudinal study of cognitive mediators. - April 19, 2018
Sexual minority women (SMW) are at high risk of trauma exposure and, subsequently, the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The authors extended a theoretical model explaining the higher risk of mental disorders in minority populations to the maintenance and exacerbation of PTSD symptoms among young adult SMW specifically. This study used observational longitudinal data from a sample of 348 trauma-exposed 18- to 25-year-old individuals assigned female sex at birth who identified as either bisexual (60.1%) or lesbian (39.9%) and met screening criteria for PTSD. Participants identified as White (82.8%), Hispanic/Latina (12.4%), American Indian/Alaska Native (13.5%), Black/African American (13.8%), and/or Asian/Asian American (4.9%). The authors investigated whether distal stressors (i.e., criterion A traumatic events, daily experiences of heterosexism) produced proximal stressors (i.e., trauma-related cognitions, internalized heterosexism) that maintained or exacerbated PTSD symptoms. Findings indicated that daily heterosexism longitudinally predicted trauma-related cognitions (i.e., cognitions related to the self, world, and self-blame). Internalized heterosexism and cognitions about the self longitudinally predicted PTSD symptom severity. In addition, a significant indirect effect was identified between daily heterosexism and PTSD symptoms via self-related posttraumatic cognitions. These findings suggest that exposure to minority-specific distal stressors appears to promote nonminority-specific cognitive processes that, in turn, may maintain or exacerbate PTSD among young adult SMW exposed to trauma. Clinicians should consider addressing daily heterosexism in young adult SMW presenting with PTSD and evaluate how these experiences might promote clients’ global, negative views regarding themselves. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)

CEU Continuing Education for
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychology CEUs, MFT CEUs

OnlineCEUcredit.com Login

Forget your Password Reset it!