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Title: Comparing the effectiveness of brief writing tasks in reducing feelings of mental contamination
Author: Horrocks, Phoebe K.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5992 0784
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 2016
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Background and objectives: Mental contamination (MC) refers to feelings of internal dirtiness that can arise without direct physical contact with a contaminant. MC is also associated with a variety of negative emotions including disgust, fear, anger, shame, guilt and revulsion. Previous research has shown that MC can be evoked by recalling an autobiographical memory of being the victim of a moral transgression. This study sought to extend these findings to explore further the MC reaction using autobiographical memories. In addition, previous research has found that washing related tasks are ineffective in reducing feelings of MC. This study explored whether brief writing interventions could help to reduce the MC reaction. Method: The current study used a non-clinical adult sample and induced MC through asking participants to recall a time they were the victim of a moral transgression (N=93). Participants were then randomised into three groups to complete a writing task (N=74). The writing tasks included: writing about a normal day (control), a self-compassion writing task and a self-esteem writing task. The study examined first whether MC would be induced, and second whether writing tasks were effective in reducing MC. Results: The autobiographical victim memory recall task induced feelings of MC (feelings of internal dirtiness, anxiety, shame, guilt, fear, sadness and humiliation). The largest effect sizes were seen for humiliation, shame and sadness. Feelings of MC significantly reduced after the writing tasks in the whole sample; no writing task intervention showed a superior effect. Conclusions: MC reactions can be induced by the memory of being victim of ‘everyday’ transgressions. The main impact of these is on humiliation, shame and sadness. The current study supports other literature suggesting that the MC reaction decays in the absence of active interventions. However, future studies are required with larger sample sizes and examining other interventions. Abbreviations: MC=Mental Contamination, MP=Mental Pollution, INE=Internal negative emotions (such as shame and guilt), ENE=External negative emotions (such as anger and anxiety).
Supervisor: Simonds, L. M. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Psych.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available