STUDY OF THE EFFECTIVENESS OF VARIOUS
METHODS OF MUSCULAR RELAXATION
A thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University.
Daphne Elaine Leslie Petersen
.A rr:;'rRA C'l'
This study 1·:as des.i.r,ned to co:::p2..re the effectiveness of four different :1elhods of skeletal :nuscle rel.axation.
'.:1wenty four :nale, underp;,adunte student volunteers 1-:ere recruited for this stud:,,, the ace ranp;e ·.-·as 1~ to 31 years.
The =:xperir11ent 1-:,w conducted in two sections as ti::1e did not al l0\•1 for the training of 24 Subjects concurrently. Section I ~as conducted over weeks one to eight inclusive and Section II was conducted over weeks nine to thirteen inclusive.
All Subjects received two pre-test sessions which invo ved the measuring and recording of the level of tension which was present in three muscle croups, the occipitofrontralis, the rigLt sternocleidomastoid and t'!e rir,ht biceps.
':uscle tension 1-1as ,:1easured using a Disa 3-channel
::::;,,ectrom:1oc:~ra1:i, and recorded using a r:mlt.i.channel ultra-violet recorder.
~he Subjects ¼ere assig::1ed to traininG Groups (four Subjects per croup) on t1,e b[,sis of v~sul::i. jnspectio::1 of the records, those 1,•i l i1 tl1e 11i.c;hest levels of tension recorded were assigned at rando::i "cJetl-:cen the croups, similarly t!wse with medium
levels of tension and those with low levels of tension were ussigned at rundor:-1 to the groups.
The traini.nr; 1:1et:10ds in Section I were, Progressive Relaxation, Jacobson (1~32) and Control Group C. The training methods in Section II were, Euscle Relaxation, \folpe ( 1969), :•ietronome Conditioned Relaxation, 3rady (1973) and Control Group F.
When the training sessions were completed, each Subject received
two post-test sessions, which were of the sar.ie forr.1at as t:1e pre
The data recorded was then scored and converted into an
integrated E.t·,.G. Analysis of t'.10 results in.11 c.,'...;d that in most cases there was little, if any reliability between scores on pre-test I and pre-test II thus further quantitative analysis of. the data was not appropriate. Graphic representation was made of group means for co~parison between pre- test II and post -test I.
It was expected that training in sor.ie of the 1,ethods would produce complete muscle relaxation, (or no tension as measured on the Electromyozruph recordinss.) The .Subjects inability to achieve voluntary muscle relaxation may have been attributed to
several factors in the design of
~·'-ne experir. :ien~~ . The Subjects were trained in a differenL roaJ to the pre-te3t, post-test room. The recordin[; fro:-i the ::1uccle groupn durin,'~ pre-test, post-test sessions ~ay well have interfered ~ith the Subjects ability to relax. ~he stimuli presented tot 1e 3ubjects during the test.i.nG sessionc also appeared to contribute tO\,Jards the
.Subjects inability to relax.
The Experimenter's ol·,Gervations of the Su':-ijectn c:urin6 the latter
stages of training indicated that the .Subjects in Jacobson's Garmary' s and '.·:olpe':::; :ncti1ods , . 1 nppeared to ach~eve some
level of relaxation which was not reflected in th.e results recorded.
I wish to thank J.like Sui th and Beryl Hesketh fo!· their ti:-ne and the advice and help they offered, also r::y t:1ar1:c;:s to Professor Shouksr:ii th for ;:1aking this study possil-;le.
My gratitude to my twenty-four Subjects for the ti8e they
were prepared to devote and for volunteerinc in the first
Table of Contents
TABL~; OF COiJTl:iITS
List of Fi~ures a11d 7ables
The Viethods Used
Jacobson, Method A
~ean number of sessions for instruction per muscle group
Garmany, ~ethod B
Nean number of sessions for instruction per muscle group
\-/olpe, ::ethod D
l-!ean number of sessions for instruction per muscle group
Brady, r-:ethod E
Mean nur;1ber of sessi.ons for instruction per muscle group
3timulus itc~ No.9, Dici ts i3ackv:ards
DesiGn of the Experiment
Table of correlation coefficients of pre-tests 1 and 2
Sample of E.i'..G. recording
Graphs of croup means for pre
-test II and post-test I
Petersen (1972) reported that" Jacobson's (1938) :nethod of
progressive relaxation appears to be a slov.r process, b'.lt
never-theless, a highly successful and rewarding one."
One limitation of the study was the fact that it was reported :
II at no time was the experimenter absolutely certain that the
subject had obtained complete skeletal r.iuscle relaxation." (S.:-i.R.)
An Electromyogram provided opportunity for a more thorough in
vest-igation of the level of relaxation Jacobson's method appeared to
produce. It was expected that E.M.G. recordinrs would provide •ore
objective data that Jacobson's method produced a deep level of S.~i.R.
S.M.R. was used oriGinally by the medical profession with no formal
trainini in Psycholor,y, such as Jacobson (1938) and Schultz (1959).
Initially rest was prescribed as an adjunct to nervous hypertension,
other nervous symptoms and also for post-operative treat•ent. Obser
-vation of patients showed that optimal resting or relaxation was
not obtained this way, there was still skeletal movement. Thus the
value of prescribing rest alone, may well be questioned. Jacobson
(1938) lists the therapeutic use of progressive relaxation (p.419) using self report of patient, and therapists report of the success
in alleviating 27 different physical and psychosomatic disorders.
Relaxation techniques of varying form have practical application
today in the clinical setting either as part of a psychotherapeutic
process, e.g. Wolpe's (1949 Systematic Desensitization or as a
technique in itself.
The technique of S.:1.R. is still being applied in t:1e clinical
setting when other techniques such as transcendental ~editation
and yoga have considerahle predominance and acceptance in the
community, and whose teachers and students claim outstandin~
effects, such as physical and psychological quie3cence as a
result of their respective 1-:-iethods. 'I'!,is :n.ay be due to t!w
fact that new methods are often recarded with suspicion, and
also the opportunity for therapists to learn the techniques may
not he present.
Apart from the clinical applications of
it also has importance in psychophysiology.
Jacobson (1933) states hie interest in relaxation t•:as stimulated
by research in 1908 at Harvard in the area of nenror1uscular
tension. By this ti1~e 8:1errington was investir:c ti nr: the motor
and sensory pathways of ~usclcs. The i~portance o~ the physio
-logy of the motor syste, can be seen when one considers the fact
that all mover.ient is brou1·ht about by contra.tion o:- tens::. on in
the skeletal musculature. ( v.·i t:1out this capoci t.'/ for 1::over.1ent,
the organism would be virtually defunct ).
Muscle tension may be unambiguously defined as ,.otor unit f; ring.
Electromyography makes it possible to record and :~,ea sure the
electrical activity associated with the firing of motor units.
The term "muscle tension" defined above must not be confused,
as it often is in the literature, with the feel of normal
healthy muscle tissue which is firm when palpated, as compared to
the feel of the flaccid muscle of a paralysed person. In this
study, tension refers to motor unit firin1~, t:iat its, an increase
in tension between the orie;in and insertion of the riuscle. This
tension may give rise to shortening of the rr.uscle, or an isotonic
contraction, this action results in displacement at the joint
over which the muscle lies. On the other hand, if there is
external resistance, or an antaEonistic ~uscle contracting to an
equal degree, there will he no displacement ut the joint, this ic
known as an isometric contraction. An isometr ic co:1traction
may not always be observed throurh visual inspection, but ~it~
practise it becones possible to identify quite small amounts of tension in a muscle h.v palpation of the area.
The use of t'ne Electro:nyor;rar. is the only possilile :1ethod of
ascertaininr, with any def:ree of confidence, that there is complete
· relaxation, or no te:1sion present in a 1:iuscle.
Many experimenters claim to use a shortened version of Jacobson's
method. An attempt ~as made to evaluate some of these other methods in this study.
Autogenic training, as set out bJ Luthe
but was discarded due to the fact that trainin~ took four to ten
The muscle relaxation descr.i.bed b.v Lc1zarus
)was not sufficiently
definitive in statin~ lenct!1 of tir.e for trainin~, and not detailed
enough for this study.
Hyp~osis and yora were not used to obtain becRuse the
expertise to use t'nese techniques was not available to the
Experimenter, who felt it was necessary to remain the sole person
to train all Subjects in this study.
)method of relaxation as used as part of the process
of systernatic desensitization 1,1as felt to be an ir~portant method
to evaluate as Wolpe
)states " The method of relaxation
taught is essentially that of Jacobson
,but instruction is completed in the course of about six interviews, in marked contrast
to Jacobson's very prolonged traininc schedules." ( p. 100 ) Wolpe
out that his method is also a departu~e fron Jacobson's in
another very important aspect, that is that ~olpe instructs his
subjects in the location of the tension they should feel. Jacob
-son, in contrast, requires his subjects to identify and locate
the sensations of tension for themselves.
A method of Muscle Relaxation by Gar~any (1952) was chosen
because this method did in fact use the sane principles as that
of Jacobson's (1938) but also incorported controlled breathing
exercises in contrast to Jacobson °1':ho aimed to " free the respi
r-ation from voluntary influence." ( p. 60)
The final method which was considered and decided suitable for
evaluation in this study was that of Metronome Conditioned
Relaxation, by Brady (1973) . This method incorporated the use
of a metronome constantly ticking at the rate of 60 beats per
minute alonr; v:ith instruction to " relax and let-go of the r.mscles",
this was pre-recorded on a cas~ctte tape. The instruction and tone
of this method appeared to be along t:1-2 _'._; nc:~; ,. · :_; at of a type of
Of the four methods chosen for investigation, ( Jacobson, Wolpe,
Garr.iany and Brady ), euch one varies fror.i the other in t:-ie way
the subjects are tauRht to indentify the sensation and location
of tension in the muscles. Each one varies in the way the subjects
are instructed to relax.
Each methodvaries in the nwnber of skeletal muscles covered and
the amount of time spent on each muscle group hefore moving on to
the next one. This last point may be one of the most crucial
factors to be given consideration when comparin~ the four methods.
Jacobson (1938) most clearly allows for the method to be carried
out at a pace suitable for each particular Subject. The Experi
-menter does not move on to a new muscle group until the subject
has had sufficient time and practice to correctly identify the
sensation of tension present, and then to let this tension go,
or to relax. In contrast to this r:1ethod, :lrad:r ( 1973) covers
all the major muscle t.;roups in the body in eight steps, allm,in;,;
only a few :ninutes to tense, then relax eac!l p;roup of rr.uscles in
All four methods are similar in t'1e respect tho.t the subjects
are required to practise relaxation on their own eac:1 day, and
most ii'.lportant, that the respective authors all clai;i1 to achieve
the sa':le result, that is, S.'.'..] .
A large portion of evaluation of .S.>..R. is in t:.:e area o: its use
as part of a process of Syster.iatic Desensitiznl.:.0:1, \folpe (1958).
:-iathews (1971) report.:; measures takeyi of the ef.:ectiveness of S.!-:.I\.
many of these used ~:G recordinrs, hut also used ~easures o:
heart rate, respiration rate and ski:1 resistance, :'athe\·'S found
contradictions in t~c resu. ts, in all cases it ~ny ~-ell be
questioned that there were j:1sufficient train~n~ sessions to
produce S.i:.R. It could o.lso be questioned, \·.hy such e:iphasis
was placed on the other physiological measures such as heart and
respiration rate and skin resistance when it has elsewhere been
suggested that these do not vary systematically in any one
Valins (1970) sugp;ests that the effect of muscular relaxation in
systematic desensitizo.tion is from self instruction or instruction
from a prestigeful person, which leads the Subject to believe,
incorrectly, that their efforts ~-ere successful and that they are
relaxed. This fact may \,ell be taken into co:1sideration in
relation to the methods used in the present study, especially
when considering the tv10 shortest r.iethods, \folpe's
)when the b me taken in training falls considerably
short of Jacobson's
)full length procedure. N.B.
Jacobson does refer to briefer methods of relaxation, these are
not investigated in th±s study.
To some extent, th~ sugcestion that Valins
a subject may incorrectly believe he is relaxed cannot occur
when using Jacobcons 's ~cthod due to the fact th.::t the subject
is required to locate the sensation of tension in the muscles
then let this tension co, the subject has to do the work, v:hile
the Experimenter is there to r;uide the subject in the right
direction, at the sar::e time, the Experimenter checks that a
muscle is relaxed by palpation of the area and passive move~ent
if possible. E.:1.G. recordinp;s may be taken as a final check that the subject is in fact relaxing.
The previous study by Petersen
)r,ave the expectation that
Jacobson's method was superior to the other methods investigated
in the present study, mainly because of the thorouchness and
detail of his technique, and also the require~ent for the Subject
to learn the technique with encouragement fro~ t~e Experimenter,
but without the element of suggestion.
It was also felt that Garmany's
)may possibly produce so~e
S.H.R. in the Subjects as this method appeared ,~ore similar to
(1938)than the other two methods chosen.
The purpose of this present study v1as to evaluo.tc Jacobson's
technique of S.M.R. in comparison to other tec:rniques.