Distributed and Condensed Versions of a Cognitive Dissonance Programme: Comparative Effects on Eating Disorder Risk Factors and Symptoms

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Research regarding different learning schedules is equivocal. Learning theory suggests that distributed learning may better facilitate long-term maintenance of behaviour change [Bouton, M. (2000). A learning theory perspective on lapse, relapse, and the maintenance of behavior change. Health Psychology: Special Issue: Maintenance of Behavior Change in Cardiorespiratory Risk Reduction, 19, 57–63]. Alternatively, some research suggests that massed-intensive content delivery can be as beneficial as distributed delivery [e.g. Rogojanski, J., & Rego, S. A. (2013). Advances and controversies in the application of a modified version of cognitive behavior therapy for social anxiety disorder. Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy, 9(3), 337–346]. The present study compared two versions of a cognitive dissonance (CD)-based eating disorders (EDs) prevention programme. CD interventions target ED risk factors via an interactive format with content spread over multiple sessions, and have demonstrated both efficacy and effectiveness across numerous trials. We randomised female undergraduates (N = 73) to either four 1-hour sessions over four weeks (4SV), or two 2-hour sessions over two weeks (2SV). The versions were identical in content and total intervention time. Results indicated that both conditions showed similar rates of improvement in ED risk factors and symptoms through a 12-month follow-up, with the exception of thin-ideal internalisation, where results suggested a possible advantage of the 4SV for long-term, but not short-term, gain. Therefore, findings suggest that entities implementing CD are able to select the format that best fits their needs without significantly compromising the positive impact of the programme. Implications regarding the dissemination benefits of a flexible programme format that maintains effectiveness are discussed.

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Advances in Eating Disorders: Theory, Research and Practice