A 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

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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

-test sessions.

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


List of Fi~ures a11d 7ables


The Viethods Used























Table I

Table II

Table III



Table V

Table VI

Table VII

Table VIII


Figure I

Figure 2

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

Vi[ilance Task

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







2ust mentioned

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




was considered

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

hypnotic inducement.

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

indiv-idual, Duffy




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



Brady'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




~~ces, that

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



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.