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The impact of absolute thinking on wellbeing

Al-Mosaiwi, M. (2019) The impact of absolute thinking on wellbeing. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00088072


The goal of this thesis is to investigate the relationship between absolutist thinking and wellbeing. To accomplish this, we first outline the concept of absolutism, before examining how this concept relates to wellbeing. In chapter 1 we present a literature review of absolutism as it relates to wellbeing, highlighting where there are points of contention or gaps in the research. In chapters 2 and 5, we define absolutism by establishing a distinction - empirically and theoretically - between the concepts of ‘absolute’ and ‘extreme’. We argue that confounding these two concepts has consequential implication. Chapters 2-5, present and validate a new text-analysis based method for measuring absolutism. We discuss the limitations of the previous methods, and compare them to our alternative text-analysis method. In chapters 2-4, we use our text-analysis method to investigate the relationship between absolutist thinking and various mental health groups. We find strong correlations between natural language markers of absolutist thinking and anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. We provide evidence that elevated use of absolutist words reflects absolutist thinking rather than psychological distress per se. We also present data that indicates absolutist thinking is a cognitive vulnerability for depression and suicidal ideation. In chapter 3 we replicate these basic associations in four non-English languages (French, Spanish, German and Russian). In chapter 2 and 4, we also explore how prominent absolutist thinking is in a community sample, while comparing the relative impact of absolutist thinking and negative thinking to wellbeing. We show that absolute words make up approximately 1% of natural language and are better markers for affective disorder than negative emotion words. In chapter 6 we briefly investigate differences in absolutist words use between cultures. In chapter 7-8, using a forced choice behavioral paradigm we ask participants to choose which is the “better way to think?”, between statements that are absolutely positivity, extremely positive and moderate negativity. We find a high degree of variation in responses. Finally, in chapter 9, we empirically demonstrate that absolutist thoughts are more cognitively rigid than non-absolute thoughts, even when they have the most reason to change.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Johnstone, T.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
ID Code:88072
Date on Title Page:2018
Additional Information:Redacted version. Appendices 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 23 redacted for copyright reasons


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