Meichenbaum (1972) – Cognitive – Stress inoculation therapy

Meichenbaum (1972) – Cognitive – Stress inoculation therapy



This is the first study we will be looking at from the ‘managing stress’ section of ‘Stress’, as part of your OCR A2 Health and Clinical Psychology course. It is further categorised into ‘Cognitive

Stress inoculation therapy is a cognitive approach to restructuring thoughts that contribute to stress and this is what Meichenbaum (1972) studied.

Meichenbaum highlights three distinct stages of stress inoculation therapy (SIT):

  • Stage One- Conceptualisation
  • Stage Two – Skills acquisition and rehearsal
  • Stage Three – Application and follow through.

In Stage one people are made aware of the thoughts they have in a stressful situation. These could be self instructions or self-verbalisations that contribute to the poor performance which is causing the stress. To give an example a person might believe that they are going to not get the job that they are being interviewed, so they start getting stressed and reaffirm that they cannot get the job and from that they really do perform poorly in the job interview and fail to get the job.

In stage two people are taught coping strategies to enable them to restructure their thoughts.  They are taught to relax when they become tense by imagining themselves in situations that cause stress and learn how to relax.  They then learn self instructions that will help them to relax rather than stress. To give an example and return to our person going for a job interview. The person may start to think about what they have done to prepare and they will tell themselves to take it one step at a time.

In stage three the person will use everything they have learned and put it into practice, which will help them succeed. In this case it will help our person succeed in their job interview.


Meichenbaum (1972) – Meichenbaum’s Stress Innoculation Therapy (SIT) adopts a cognitive approach as he assumes that stress is caused by faulty processing of information.


To compare SIT with standard behavioural systematic desensitisation and a control group on a waiting list.

Method and Design

A field experiment where students were assessed before and after treatment using self-report and grade averages.

Matched pairs design. The groups were matched on gender and anxiety levels.

The participants were randomly allocated to one of three groups:

  1. The SIT therapy group
  2. The waiting list control group
  3. The standard systematic desensitisation group.

Volunteer Sample.

21 students aged from 17 to 25 who responded to an advert for treatment of test anxiety.


Each participant was tested using a test anxiety questionnaire and allocated to their group.

In the SIT group the participants received eight therapy sessions. They were given the ‘insight’ approach to help them identify their thoughts prior to the tests. They were then given some positive statements to say and relaxation techniques to use in test situations.

In the systematic desensitisation group the participants were given eight therapy sessions with progressive relaxation training, which they were encouraged to practise at home.

The control group were told they were on a waiting list and that they would receive therapy in the future.


Performance on the tests improved in the SIT group when compared with the other two groups.

There was significant differences between the two therapy groups and the control group.

Participants in the SIT group showed more reported improvement in their anxiety levels, although both therapy groups showed overall improvement compared to the control group. 


SIT is a more effective way of reducing anxiety in students who are anxiety prone in test situations. It is more effective than behavioural techniques such as systematic desensitisation as it adds a cognitive component to the therapy.

Meichenbaum (1972) Evaluation

– Small sample – as the sample was small we can argue that the reliability and generalisability of the study is low.

– Ethnocentrism – the sample only consisted of students and therefore we can argue that the generalisability of the results and conclusions is low.

+ Usefulness – the results and conclusions show that SIT is a more effective way of treating students for anxiety than some other methods.

+ Ecological Validity – As a field experiment was used, we can say that the ecological validity is high.

+ Validity – Matched Pairs Design – Both order effects and participant variables have been controlled for with the use of the matched pairs design.

Further Reading

OCR A2 Psychology Student Unit Guide New Edition: Unit G543 Health and Clinical Psychology (Student Unit Guides)

Psych Yogi’s Top Ten Psychology Revision Tips for the A* Student

Article Name
Meichenbaum (1972) - Cognitive - Stress inoculation therapy
Revise 'managing stress' section of 'Stress', as part of your OCR A2 Health and Clinical Psychology course. It is further categorised into 'Cognitive' Revision