Dissertation Abstract

Differential Responses of Sensitizers and Repressors in Serial Learning.

Publication Number:  AG8200422
Author:  Matheis, Margaret
School:  Illinois Institute Of Technology
Date:  1981
Pages:  92
Subject:  Education

The repression-sensitization dimension is a defense mechanism used in reducing anxiety in order to return the organism to its customary comfort level. Repressors respond to threat by blocking, denying, repressing, and forgetting distressful events--a general pattern of avoidance. Sensitizers respond by recognizing threat readily, better recalling distressful events and even becoming obsessive about them--a general pattern of approach.

In an attempt to measure these personality patterns, Byrne (1961) developed the Repression - Sensitization Scale (R-S Scale) which was used in the present study. Supporting research has established the R-S Scale as a valid classifier of repressors and sensitizers in their responses to affect - laden stimuli. Very little had been done regarding group differences in cognitive abilities, partially due to lack of powerful information processing theories. Martin (1974) developed a serial learning model which detailed information processing and provided this study with a means of addressing the question of differential responses of sensitizers and repressors in serial learning.

Subjects were drawn from social science courses at a midwestern community college. Two hundred fifteen persons took the R-S Scale during class time. After categorizing the subjects as either sensitizers, neutrals, or repressors in correspondence with Byrne's (1963) norms, sixty were randomly selected and individually administered the learning task. They learned thirty-six words, four to a group, by the self-paced anticipation method. Money was provided as incentive for the speeded trial. In the first high instructional incentive experimental condition, half of the repressors, neutrals, and sensitizers were instructed that skill and ability were necessary to learn the words and that they could control the outcome. The second low instructional incentive consisted of relaxing instructional sets toward the task which the remaining subjects received. After learning the word list to perfect criterion, the subject was asked for free recall of as many words in any order he could remember. This was followed by a second recall with strong emphasis on speed. All sixty subjects then received Rotter's (1966) Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (I-E Scale).

Results showed no significant differences in either mean errors or proportion of errors committed during the acquisition phase of the experiment between sensitizers, neutrals, and repressors. Speed did result in fewer groups entered, but no personality group was distinguished along this factor. Instructional incentive did not cause a loss of groups from speeded to normal free recall. Speed also caused subjects to drop words, but no personality group was distinguished along this factor. Instructional incentive did not cause a loss of words from speeded to normal free recall. All analyses performed on words in the serial learning task resulted only in a significant main effect for the form of free recall factor (speeded or normal). None of the relationships investigated between the R-S Scale and the I-E Scale was very great.

Several possible explanations were posited for the lack of support for the hypotheses. First, differences among groups might have appeared at certain levels of the independent variables had the instructional incentive been present and threatening to the individual. The influence of a properly induced high incentive with forced speed together may have caused changes in the dependent variable. It was suggested that future research manipulate the affective quality of words in a serial learning task sufficiently to arouse the defense. Second, because researchers have not used a consistent classification system for designating sensitizers, neutrals, and repressors, statements about these personality groups become questionable. It was suggested that future research follow Byrne's scheme and that experimenters report their methods.

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