• Addressing Gaps in Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Relational Frame Theory – Research on Coherence and Ambiguity

      Hulbert-Williams, Lee; Hulbert-Williams, Nick; Lafferty, Moira; Ashcroft, Samuel P. (University of Chester, 2021-03)
      The aim of this thesis was to build a body of evidence to address several gaps in Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Harmon-Jones, E. & Harmon-Jones, C., 2007) and Relational Frame Theory (Hayes et al., 2001), relating to relational coherence, incoherence, and particularly ambiguity. These gaps included a lack of: theory and research on ambiguity; robust definitions of coherence, incoherence and ambiguity; research on the relative appetitiveness of coherence versus incoherence and ambiguity; multiple-stimulus research in Cognitive Dissonance Theory; technical experimentation in Cognitive Dissonance Theory; and clarity about the stimulus-specific lower boundary conditions of coherence-related phenomena. An overview of theory and research pertaining to coherence, incoherence and ambiguity was given (Chapter 1), including discussion regarding the gaps highlighted. Then, working definitions of coherence, incoherence and ambiguity were offered (Chapter 2). The ambiguity-coherence study by Quinones and Hayes (2014) was conceptually replicated and expanded (Chapter 3), discovering that participants spontaneously generate A-C relationships on ambiguous A-C blocks involving nonsense stimuli. A design issue regarding patterns of reinforcement was identified in Chapter 3, and this was discussed and resolved (Chapter 4), alongside an assessment of the appetitive properties of coherence. Participants displayed no preference towards completing a coherent versus an ambiguous A-C block again. Physiological measures of Heart Rate and Galvanic Skin Response were measured in response to coherence and ambiguity (Chapter 5), further evidencing spontaneous generation of relationships in response to ambiguity. No difference in physiological measures was found between coherent and ambiguous A-C blocks. Incoherence was incorporated into the design (Chapter 6), which provided corroborative evidence of the spontaneous generation effect and also demonstrated the validity of the experimental design by matching predictions from Relational Frame Theory. An updated assessment of the appetitive properties of coherence was completed (Chapter 7), with real words as stimuli and discriminatives. Spontaneous generation of relationships in response to ambiguity also occurred using these alternative stimuli. Differences were broadly not found between coherent and ambiguous A-C block types, indicating that there appears to be a stimulus-specific lower boundary condition for various coherence phenomena such as changes in affect and arousal. However, the spontaneous generation of A-C relationships indicates no stimulus-specific lower boundary condition for coherence-related behavioural responses. Finally, the effect of experimental design on spontaneous generation of relationships was assessed (Chapter 8), identifying that spontaneous generation of relationships is moderated by the complexity of the cognitive task at hand. Findings from this thesis were synthesised with literature on coherence, particularly that of Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Relational Frame Theory (Chapter 9), with limitations, implications and future research directions given. This thesis: evidences the importance of ambiguity in any theory relating to coherence; identifies a possible stimulus-specific lower boundary condition for affective but not behavioural coherence-related responses; shows that the spontaneous generation of relationships effect could potentially be considered a fundamental aspect of human relational behaviour; and demonstrates that such spontaneous generation effects appear moderated by the complexity of the cognitive task at hand.