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09-12-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2016

Cognitive Therapy and Research 2/2016

Unconscious Learning of Cognitive Structures with Emotional Components: Implications for Cognitive Behavior Psychotherapies

Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 2/2016
Răzvan Jurchiş, Adrian Opre


One hypothesized explanation for the resistance to change of cognitive mechanisms associated with dysfunctional emotion, is the fact that these mechanisms are sometimes unconscious. Thus, several researchers and practitioners with a cognitive approach to the clinical field view learning of unconscious cognition as a topic that must be explored in order to improve the theories and the techniques of cognitive behavior therapies (CBTs). However, little empirical research has been done for clarifying whether emotionally-loaded cognitive structures (e.g., cognitive schema) can be acquired in the absence of awareness. In two experiments, using an experimental paradigm adapted from implicit learning research, we found that individuals are able to learn complex cognitive structures that associate neutral and emotional contents. Moreover, they learn and use these cognitive structures unconsciously. These results suggest that unconscious contents and processes may be involved in generation of dysfunctional affective responses. Implications for theory, research, and practice of CBT of these findings are illustrated.

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