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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
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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 Test.

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Health disparities between genderqueer, transgender, and cisgender individuals: An extension of minority stress theory. - March 21, 2019
Interpersonal, social, and structural stressors have been identified as key elements that explain health disparities between transgender and cisgender individuals. However, most of this research has focused on binary transgender individuals or has not differentiated between binary and nonbinary individuals; little research has examined the experiences of minority stress or health of those identifying outside the gender binary. Guided by intersectionality and drawing on a sample of 3,568 college students from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health’s 2012−2016 database—of whom 892 identified outside the gender binary—we conducted analyses of demographic and outcome measures administered in participants’ 1st counseling appointment, examining differences between cisgender, transgender, and genderqueer individuals. We found that genderqueer individuals were harassed, sexually abused, and subjected to traumatic events at higher rates than were either cisgender or binary transgender individuals, with approximately 50% of genderqueer individuals reporting one of these experiences. We found that genderqueer individuals experienced more anxiety, depression, psychological distress, and eating concerns than did binary transgender and cisgender individuals and more social anxiety than did cisgender individuals. Genderqueer individuals more frequently reported self-harm and suicidality than did any other group, with approximately 2/3 of participants’ having contemplated and nearly 50% making a suicide attempt. We extend current theorizing about minority stress (Hendricks & Testa, 2012; Meyer, 2003) to include genderqueer individuals and delineate several structural aspects of genderqueer experiences that may be responsible for these trends, including others’ lack of knowledge about genderqueer experiences and pronouns, poor access to legal and medical resources, and systemic discrimination. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
A caballo regalao no se le mira el colmillo: Colonial mentality and Puerto Rican depression. - April 18, 2019
Dignifying the colonizer and depreciating the colonized is a reflection of internalized colonial oppression (i.e., colonial mentality). The current study examined the effect of colonial mentality on depression symptoms in a sample of mainland Puerto Ricans (N = 352). A structural equation model was examined, in which colonial mentality was hypothesized to be directly and positively associated with depression symptoms. The proposed model also tested the indirect effect of colonial mentality on depression symptoms via acculturative stress. Results indicated that a full mediation structural equation model (SEM) had a better fit to the data than our hypothesized partial mediation model. Bias-corrected bootstrapping indicated that the effect of colonial mentality on depressive symptoms was mediated by acculturative stress. That is, colonial mentality increased the risk of experiencing depression symptoms in Puerto Ricans when they felt pressured to maintaining a connection with Puerto Rican culture and society and when they experienced rejection by the society they want to emulate (acculturative stress). The current results underscore the need for researchers and clinicians to consider and assess colonial mentality when conceptualizing depression symptoms among mainland Puerto Ricans. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
The development and validation of the Emotional Cultivation Scale: An East Asian cultural perspective. - April 15, 2019
Research on emotion regulation in East Asian children and adolescents is limited. One obstacle hindering the development of emotion regulation for East Asian children and adolescents is the lack of a culturally sensitive measure. To fill this gap, we have developed and validated the Emotional Cultivation Scale using samples of Taiwanese children and adolescents. In Study 1, an exploratory factor analysis (n = 341) identified two factors: Cultivating Emotion Strategies and Understanding Emotion Connotations. A confirmatory factor analysis (n = 358) confirmed this two-factor structure. Coefficient αs were .69 to .88 for Emotional Cultivation. Convergent validity was evidenced by positive associations with cognitive reappraisal and cognitive flexibility. Discriminant validity was supported by a nonsignificant association with suppression. Concurrent validity was revealed by positive associations with positive affect, basic psychological need satisfaction, gratitude, responsiveness from teachers, responsiveness from parents, and academic self-efficacy. Incremental validity was evidenced by the finding that emotional cultivation significantly accounted for an additional 2 to 20% of the variance in predicting cognitive flexibility, positive affect, basic psychological need satisfaction, gratitude, responsiveness from teachers, responsiveness from parents, and academic self-efficacy above and beyond cognitive reappraisal and suppression. Results from the multigroup analysis further indicated factor loading invariance and validity invariance between boys and girls and between elementary and middle schools. The factor structure was cross-validated by a clinical sample of Taiwanese children and adolescents (N = 161) and their parents in Study 2 (N = 159). The counseling implications were discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
Cognitive and affective expectation of stigma, coping efficacy, and psychological distress among sexual minority people of color. - May 30, 2019
There is a paucity of research on the potentially distinctive functions of cognitive and affective expectation of stigma. Moreover, expectation of stigma has received limited research attention with sexual minority people of color who may anticipate interlocking heterosexist and racist stigmatization. In this study, data from 209 sexual minority people of color were analyzed using path analysis and bootstrap procedures to test direct and indirect relations among perceived discrimination, expectation of stigma, coping self-efficacy, and psychological distress. Analyses disaggregated expectation of stigma into its cognitive (i.e., perceived likelihood of stigma) and affective (i.e., worry and anxiety about stigma) components. Results revealed that perceived discrimination had a unique direct link with psychological distress. In addition, perceived discrimination was linked indirectly with greater distress through affective expectation of stigma and problem-focused and emotion-focused coping self-efficacy. These findings suggest the importance of social justice interventions to reduce discrimination. Additionally, the findings suggest that interventions should attend to affective worry and anxiety about stigma and foster problem-focused and emotion-focused coping self-efficacy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
Surviving and thriving: Voices of Latina/o engineering students at a Hispanic serving institution. - April 15, 2019
This study examined factors that played a role in Latina/o undergraduate students’ persistence in engineering at a Hispanic serving institution (HSI; N = 10) using the consensual qualitative research method (CQR; Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997). Data analyses resulted in five domains: institutional conditions, additive intersectional burdens, personal and cultural wealth, coping skills, and engineering identity. Participants described how they persisted in the face of stressors, citing specific coping skills they developed over time as well as general personal and cultural strengths they carried with them into their pursuit of engineering. Although the structures of the students’ institution were generally described as supportive, Latina participants reported experiences with gendered racism that created added barriers to their persistence in engineering. Supportive institutional conditions, personal and cultural assets, and adaptive coping strategies appeared to facilitate the development of a strong engineering identity, which helped to solidify students’ sense of belonging, pride, and commitment to complete their degree. Results highlight the need to address intersecting experiences of privilege and oppression to promote access and equity for Latinas/os in engineering. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

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