Training children to talk to themselves to help develop self-control

Meichenbaum, D. H., & Goodman, J. (1971). Training impulsive children to talk to themselves: A means of developing self-control. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 77(2), 115–126.

A cognitive self-instruction training program designed to get impulsive children to self-verbalize was successful in modifying their behavior. Further study, however, showed that the self-instruction part of the training was necessary for improved performance.

Researchers examined the efficacy of the training program through two studies. The first studied second-grade children placed in remedial class. Students’ behavior and performance were measured before and after treatment as well as in a one-month follow-up. Students were divided into three groups. The members of the cognitive self-guidance group received four individual sessions in which they first observed self-verbalization in the performance of a task being modeled and then they slowly took over increasing amounts of this sets of behaviors. The assessment control group received the same number of sessions in which its members were exposed to the same materials and performed the same activities but without any self-instruction training. The assessment control group only received the same pre-, post-, and follow-up assessments. Although there was no difference between the groups in their classroom behavior, the self-guidance group showed improved performance on a variety of tests of cognitive impulsivity, improvements that still appeared a month later in the follow-up testing.

These encouraging results led researchers to conduct the second study on impulsive kindergarten and first graders. The members of the cognitive modeling group observed an experimenter model a set of verbalizations and behaviors before being given the opportunity to practice the behavior. The members of the cognitive modeling plus self-instructional training group observed the same modeling behavior, but not the verbalizations. Instead, they received training to produce the omitted self-instructions. Afterward, they performed repeated practice trials while talking aloud. The attention control group observed the behavior and received the opportunity to practice it, but only with general statements for accompanying verbalizations. The findings showed that the cognitive modeling slowed down impulsive behavior, but did not reduce errors. Only the cognitive modeling plus self-instructional training was effective at both slowing decision time and reducing errors.

{Note that the final stage in the cognitive self-instruction training and the cognitive modeling plus self-instructional training was for the students to speak “covertly (without lip movements)”. I am not sure if this affects how well it fits with your goals.}

***{Quote from p.124-5 indicating references to possibly pursue later}

“We have explored in a series of studies the use of behavior modification techniques to alter the self-verbalizations of such patients as phobics, schizophrenics, smokers, speech- and test-anxious 5s, as well as impulsive children (Meichenbaum, 1970, 1971; Meichenbaum, Gilmore, & Fedoravicius, 1971, in press; Steffy, Meichenbaum, & Best, 1970). In each case, therapeutically attending to the patient’s self-verbalizations, as well as his overt maladaptive behavior, has led to greater behavioral change, greater generalization, and greater persistence of treatment effects.”

*MEICHENBAUM, D. Examination of model characteristics in reducing avoidance behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1971, 17, 298-307.

MEICHENBAUM, D., GILMORE, J, B., & FEDORAVICIUS, A. Group insight versus group desensitization in treating speech anxiety. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1971, in press.

STEFFY, R., MEICHENBAUM, D., & BEST, A. Aversive and cognitive factors in the modification of smoking behavior. Behavior Research and Therapy, 1970, 8, 115-125.

The use of cognitive self-instruction in the treatment of behavioral problems

Snyder, J. J., & White, M. J. (1979). The use of cognitive self-instruction in the treatment of behaviorally disturbed adolescents. Behavior Therapy, 10(2), 227–235.

Compared to other forms of treatment, cognitive self-instruction resulted in improvements in the performance of daily living requirements and decreases in impulsive behaviors. Researchers tested the efficacy of cognitive self-instruction against another form of treatment, contingency awareness, as well as against no treatment. They examined fifteen behaviorally disturbed adolescents selected because they showed little change in behavior after a previous operant behavior modification program.

The members of the cognitive self-instruction received six sessions of training (over four weeks) on the effects of private speech, developing and rehearsing their own responses, applying their skills and discussing the results. The contingency awareness group received the same schedule of instruction and focused on the awareness of issues and possible behavior changes but without mentioning self-verbalizations.

The behavior of the members of each group was monitored for a two-week block before, immediately after, and seven weeks after treatment in terms of their class absences, impulsive behaviors, and failure to complete social/self-care tasks. The results found showed improved behavior in the cognitive self-instruction group, but not in the other two groups. Furthermore, the improvements in the self-instruction group not only continued, but grew, with fewer behavioral problems appearing in the later follow-up than in the period immediately after treatment.

The Effects of Self-Verbalizations upon Emotional Arousal and Performance

Effects of Self-Verbalizations upon Emotional Arousal and Performance: A Test of Rational-Emotive Theory

Gregory A. Bonadies, Barry A. Bass

December 1, 1984

Self-verbalizing rational statements results in more improvement in performing tasks than doing so with irrational or neutral statements. Researchers drew from rational-emotive theory’s view that self-verbalizations, especially irrational ones, affect performance. They then tested the possibility that physiological arousal plays a mediating role in this relationship. The 36 study participants were divided into two experimental groups and one control group who received rational, irrational, or neutral statements, respectively. For each individual trial, researchers wired participants with forearm and fingers electrodes to measure physiological response and had them perform a mirror-tracing task within a time limit. After a baseline run, participants individually read their respective statements aloud and were asked to paraphrase them before performing the task while keeping their statements in mind. The set of reading the statements and performing the task was then repeated two more times.

Although the hypothesized results for physiological response were not found, researchers observed differences in performance between the groups. All the self-verbalizing groups showed improvement, but while the error reduction with irrational or neutral statements showed a leveling off, with rational statements it continued.

The Effects of Positive Self-Instruction: A Controlled Trial

The Effects of Positive Self-Instruction: A Controlled Trial

Alfred Lange, Rene Richard, Aagje Gest, Marjan De Vries & Litanja Lodder

Cognitive Therapy and Research, Vol. 22, No.3, 1998, pp. 225-236

Positive self-instruction has beneficial effects on self-esteem and on feelings of inadequacy. Researchers reached this conclusion after conducting a study in which they emphasized the importance of examining self-instruction without contamination from other treatment techniques and with respondents expressing their instructions in their own words.

Study participants were psychology students with low self-esteem, as indicated by receiving a score below the 20th percentile on a questionnaire. Half the participants formed the experimental group, each member of which wrote a positive essay about themselves that they turned into positive statements. They then read these statements aloud to themselves twice daily over a period of three weeks. The remainder of the participants formed the control group and were given neutral writing assignments and no assigned reading. At the final session, all participants conducted a self-evaluation using questionnaires. They also answered questions about their motivation at different points in the study.

Members of the experimental group showed greater improvements than the control group in measures of Social Inadequacy, General Inadequacy, Self-Esteem, and Self-Confidence. Moreover, within this group intrinsically motivated participants improved more than those participating merely to be rewarded for taking part in the study. Unexpectedly, men were found to improve from self-instruction more than women.

The Effects of Self-Talk on Thought Content and Performance on Water-Polo Tasks

Self-Talk in the Swimming Pool: The Effects of Self-Talk on Thought Content and Performance on Water-Polo Tasks

Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, Yannis Theodorakis, and Nikos Zourbanos

Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16: 138–150, 2004

Self-talk acts to reduce the occurrence of interfering thoughts during tasks as well as improve task performance. However, this latter aspect is affected by the type of self-talk and the type of task involved. Researchers studied this relationship by examining two types of self-talk (instructional and motivational) in regards to two types of water polo tasks (precision and power throws). In two separate experiments, students in a swimming class (a different one for each experiment) with no experience in water polo served as participants. Two weeks after they were tested in their respective task, they were randomly divided into three groups, control and two experimental groups, instructional self-talk and motivational self-talk, and the task repeated, only with the experimental groups being cued on the talk they needed to say.

In the precision task experiment, both experimental groups showed improvement, with the instructional group improving more. In the power task experiment, only the motivational self-talk group improved. In both experiments, the frequency of interfering thoughts decreased. Based on this latter finding, the researchers proposed that the ability of self-talk to reduce interfering thoughts and thereby improve concentration indicate it may be a mechanism through which self-talk improves performance.

Positive Effects of Self‐Verbalizations Study

Psychological Crisis in a Marathon and the Buffering Effects of Self‐Verbalizations

Julia Schüler and Thomas A. Langens

Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 37 (2007), 10. – S. 2319-2344

In their study of goal striving, researchers found that self-verbalizations help people to achieve their goals by reducing the effect of psychological crises that cause people to turn away from them. They reached this conclusion by examining marathon runners, a group who face psychological and physiological barriers in their pursuit of successfully completing the race. Self-verbalizations are a strategy for dealing with psychological crises encountered, such as distractions or goal disengagement, which are a predictor of poor race performance.

Researchers conducted an experimental field study comparing the psychological experiences runners had at four separate points during the race (10, 20, 30, and 40 kilometers). Roughly half of the runners were given self-verbalization instructions while the rest did not.

For both groups, the mean values for psychological crisis increased until kilometer 30, before declining. The self-verbalization group, however, reported lower values at each measurement point, with the amount of self-verbalization they expressed following same pattern as the amount of psychological crisis they felt. The runners using self-verbalization also appeared to have better race performance, though the difference between the groups was only significant for runners experiencing large psychological crises.

Overall, the data indicate that the experimental group used self-verbalizations, when needed, to moderate the effect of their psychological crises. However, the study also found that while self-verbalizations were effective for marathon runners, they “did not use them spontaneously” (p.2340), but instead they needed some form of instruction to do so.