Early Maladaptive Schemas and Adaptive/Maladaptive Styles of Humor

David J. A. Dozois Æ Rod A. Martin Æ Peter J. Bieling

Published online: 2 December 2008 � Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract Early maladaptive schemas (EMSs) are thought to act as templates for information processing which influence individuals’ emotional reactions to life situations and their styles of interpersonal relating. The association between EMSs and psychopathology is also believed to be mediated by the use of maladaptive compensatory coping and deficits in adaptive coping (e.g., avoidance, surrender). As styles of coping, humor may be such a mediator. This study examined correlations between domains of the Young SchemaQuestionnaire-Shortformandsubscalesofthe Humor Styles Questionnaire. A number of EMS domains were associated with reduced use of adaptive affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles and increased use of maladaptive self-defeating humor. In addition, the maladaptive aggressive style of humor was associated with the EMS involving insufficient self-control. The relationship between most EMS

domains and depressed mood was mediated by both self-enhancing and self-defeating humor styles.

Keywords Schemas � Humor � Early maladaptive schemas � Depression � Dysphoria

According to Beck’s (Beck 1967; Beck et al. 1979) cognitive theory of depression, a negative or depressogenic self-schema constitutes a vulnerability factor for depression. Self-schemas are well-organized perceptual sets that form the basis of core beliefs about self and have been conceptualized as ‘‘relatively enduring internal structures of stored generic or prototypical features of stimuli, ideas, or experience that are used to organize new information in a meaningful way thereby determining how phenomena are perceived and conceptualized’’ (Clark et al. 1999, p. 79). Beck argued that the development and structure of a maladaptive self-schema occurs in early childhood but remains dormant until it is activated by negative life circumstances (see Beck et al. 1979). Once activated, schemas are thought to influence information processing in a negative and schema-congruent fashion (Beck et al. 1979; Ingram et al. 1998). There is now substantial support for the idea that maladaptive schemas and core beliefs are contributory causes of unipolar depression (see Dozois and Beck 2008, for review).

D. J. A. Dozois � R. A. Martin The University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada

P. J. Bieling St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada

D. J. A. Dozois (&) Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, Westminster Hall, 361 Windermere Road, Rm. 313, London, ON, Canada N6A 3K7 e-mail:


Cogn Ther Res (2009) 33:585–596 DOI 10.1007/s10608-008-9223-9

Although Beck’s model contends that early experiences contribute to the development of negative schemas and, in turn, depression, less theoretical emphasis has been allocated to these developmental vicissitudes. The work of Jeffrey Young (Young 1999; Young et al. 2003, 2008) has recently shifted the conceptual focus toward developmental factors involved in cognitive vulnerability to depression and empirical work in this area has increased (e.g., Bruce et al. 2006; Gibb et al. 2006; Lumley and Harkness 2007; Mezulis et al. 2006; Oliver et al. 2007; Whisman and Kwon 1992). Young (Young 1990, 1999; Young et al. 2003) argued that the unique circumstances an individual experiences in childhood contribute to the development of a distinctive set of core beliefs about self and others which he termed early maladaptive schemas (EMS).1 EMSs are believed to develop as a function of thwarted, unmet, or inadequately met needs during early development (see Young et al. 2003) and become self-perpetuating and resistant to change. A number of different EMSs have been identified, which the Young Schema Questionnaire (YSQ) (Young 1990) or its short form (Young and Brown 2003) are designed to assess. An individual who experiences emotional detachment, rejection or abuse, for example, is purported to develop core beliefs in the domain of Disconnection and Rejection (e.g., beliefs of being unwanted, inferior or unlovable). Impaired Autonomy is believed to stem from an early environment that fails to reinforce a child appropriately or that undermines a child’s perceived competence. Beliefs and behaviors subsumed under the domain of Impaired Limits (e.g., entitlement, low frustration tolerance or the refusal to maintain sufficient self-control) are thought to develop in the context of parental over-permissiveness and lack of discipline. Other-directedness (e.g., beliefs pertaining to the excessive need for affection and approval) is believed to derive from families of origin in which children gain acceptance only by suppressing their own needs and pleasing their parents. Finally,

Overvigilance and Inhibition are thought to be cultivated in early environments that are demanding and rigid and where abiding by rules and avoiding mistakes are rewarded to the exclusion of explorative or pleasure-seeking behaviors. A number of studies have recently explored the specific core beliefs outlined in the YSQ. The empirical research generally supports the differentiation among the EMSs (e.g., Glaser et al. 2002; Lee et al. 1999; Schmidt et al. 1995). The EMSs have also been supported in factor analytic studies of the YSQ (Hoffart et al. 2005; Lee et al. 1999; Welburn et al. 2002) although a consistent higher-order factor structure has not emerged (see Oei and Baranoff 2007). Hoffart et al. (2005) recently evaluated the higherorder structure of the15 EMSs on the short-form of the YSQ using confirmatory factor analysis. In addition to replicating an earlier factor analysis (see Lee et al. 1999), these researchers tested a number of solutions including the five domains purported by Young et al. (2003). Hoffart et al. (2005) found that a four factor model yielded the most parsimonious solution. The schema domains represented in this solution were Disconnection (comprised of Emotional Deprivation, EmotionalInhibition, Mistrust/Abuse,Social Isolation and Defectiveness), Impaired Autonomy (which consisted of EMSs of Subjugation, Dependence, Failure, Vulnerability, Abandonment, Enmeshment and Insufficient Self-control), Impaired Limits (made up of Insufficient Self-control and Entitlement) and Exaggerated Standards (composed of Self-Sacrifice and Unrelenting Standards). According to Young et al. (2003), individuals with EMSs tend to also display maladaptive coping strategies that may perpetuate their schemas. Young et al. (2003) discuss three strategies for coping with the threat of an activated schema. These coping strategies (i.e., overcompensation, avoidance, and surrender) correspond to basic responses to threat (i.e., fight, flight, or freeze, respectively). To our knowledge, no previous research has examined the relationship between compensatory or coping styles and EMS. Humor styles—conceived as the ways people use humor as a method of coping and a form of communication—may mediate the relationship between EMSs and subsequent expressions of psychopathology (e.g., depressive symptomatology). Many authors have noted that humor, because it

1 Schemas have been defined in a number of ways, but most definitions incorporate the idea that they consist of both structure (i.e., an organizational component) and content (Ingram et al. 1998). As such, our view is that ‘‘early maladaptive schemas’’ (and other accessible beliefs) are really proxies of the self-schema as they do not provide information about the organization of this cognitive content.

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