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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Jean-Philippe Gagné, Psychology

Psychometric and Experimental Investigations of Beliefs About Losing Control

Monday, June 21, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer


On line

When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


According to cognitive theory, maladaptive beliefs play a pivotal role in the aetiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders and related problems, and there appears to be overlap in the belief domains that are involved across these various disorders. For instance, believing that one has poor control over threatening situations has been associated with symptoms of both obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). Interestingly, this overlap in control-related cognitions between OCD and SAD has also emerged elsewhere. Indeed, theoretical models and clinical reports claim that individuals with OCD and SAD fear losing control over several domains, such as their thoughts, emotions, behaviour, and bodily functions. This indicates that negative beliefs about the likelihood and consequences of losing control should be examined in relation to both of these disorders, given that they have not traditionally been targeted in the clinic. This program of research was designed to foster psychometric investigations and routine assessments of beliefs about losing control and to increase our understanding of the possible causal role of these beliefs in the development of phenomena observed in OCD and SAD. In Study 1, a measure of maladaptive beliefs about losing control, the Beliefs About Losing Control Inventory (BALCI), was validated in a sample of undergraduate students (N = 488). Results indicated that the BALCI’s items capture negative beliefs about losing control over one’s thoughts, behaviour, and emotions (Factor 1), beliefs about the importance of staying in control (Factor 2), and negative beliefs about losing control over one’s body/bodily functions (Factor 3). The BALCI was found to be psychometrically sound and was associated with OCD symptoms above and beyond already established maladaptive beliefs. In Study 2, beliefs about the likelihood of losing control over one’s behaviour were manipulated by providing false feedback to undergraduate participants (N = 128). Overall, believing that one was likely to lose control over their behaviour led to significantly increasing anxiety while approaching stimuli that are typically feared in OCD, significantly lower perceived caution while interacting with these stimuli, and recalling experiencing significantly more intrusive thoughts throughout the protocol. In Study 3, beliefs about the likelihood and consequences of losing control over one’s actions/speech were manipulated by assigning undergraduate participants (N = 93) to drinking vodka (alcohol condition), alcohol-free vodka (placebo condition), or orange juice (control condition). Participants then completed a task consisting of interacting with a stranger. Results indicated that those in the placebo (versus control) condition experienced significantly greater anxiety prior to and during the social interaction, perceived themselves as making a significantly poorer first impression, and reported engaging in significantly more post-event processing. Of note, the pharmacological effects of alcohol appeared to mitigate the effects of beliefs about losing control: those in the alcohol (versus placebo) condition experienced significantly lower anticipatory anxiety, reported making a significantly better first impression, and appeared to rely significantly less on safety behaviour. Results are discussed in terms of implications for cognitive-behavioural theories and therapies for anxiety disorders and related problems.

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