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  Research Plan 1/2

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AFF Research Plan
Part 1/2 Part 2/2
       

November 1999

One of AFF�s most important goals is to inspire, encourage, coordinate, support and contribute to research initiated by AFF staff, volunteer professionals, and others who are interested in the cult problem. In September 1994 AFF's Dr. Michael Langone organized a two-day research-planning meeting in which 16 professionals convened to discuss ongoing and planned research. A second meeting took place in April 1995. Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center hosted both meetings. The research outline below summarizes the results of these meetings and subsequent discussions with AFF research advisors. This outline continues to guide our research work. (In order to enhance scientific clarity the term, �psychologically abusive group,� is used instead of �cult,� with which considerable ambiguity and controversy is associated.) Although much useful research has been conducted, fully implementing this ambitious research plan will take many years. Those interested in contributing to the research program outlined below should contact Dr. Langone

The questions that guide our research follow:

  1. How can we productively conceptualize the term �psychologically abusive group� and the relevance of certain types of �harm,� �group variables,� and �person variables� to psychologically abusive groups?

Answering this question will require a series of conceptual essays [one of which, Dr. Langone�s essay �Psychological Abuse,� has already been published in Cultic Studies Journal, 9(2), 1992] that will lay the groundwork for a psychological theory of group-perpetrated psychological abuse. This theory should clearly imply empirical studies that can test the theory�s validity.

  1. How can we productively measure group psychological abuse and relevant group, person, and harm variables?

Drs. William Chambers, Michael Langone, and Arthur Dole developed the 28-item Group Psychological Abuse Scale (GPA Scale) from a factor analysis of the responses of 308 subjects rating their groups on 112 questions [Cultic Studies Journal, 11(1), 1994].The GPA Scale needs to undergo a full course of psychometric development, including reliability and validity studies and the collection of data from a wide range of cultic and noncultic groups. If the GPA Scale lives up to its promise, it should prove useful in distinguishing cultic from noncultic groups and in differentiating various types of cultic groups. It will provide, for the first time, an objective measure of the �cultishness� of a group.

Drs. Langone and Chambers presented a paper with Ohio University graduate student, Peter Malinoski to the American Psychological Association. This paper, which is available from AFF, summarizes research with the Group Psychological Abuse Scale (GPA) through 1996.

Dr. Rod Marshall and Lois Kendall of Buckinghamshire College in London gave an updated report on their research, which uses the GPA along with other instruments, at AFF's annual conference in Seattle, April 28-29, 2000 (they gave a report at the 1999 conference as well). Other researchers are also collecting or analyzing data involving the GPA.

Despite the GPA Scale�s promise, it is also desirable to supplement the self-report GPA with other self-report scales and observational measures of psychologically abusive group environments. In regard to the first goal, Dr. Nadine Winocur developed a related scale as part of her doctoral dissertation at Pepperdine University. She and her colleagues report on the Individual Cult Experience Index in Cultic Studies Journal, 14(2), 1997. Because of the complexity of the second goal, the first step will be to write a carefully thought out methodological essay on issues to consider in developing observational measures of abusive groups.

In testing the GPA, AFF has found that families of individuals involved in cultic groups also find the scale useful. In order to meet their needs more effectively AFF would like to develop a companion scale for families. This scale will explore how families are affected by and perceive cultic groups.

Research conducted at Ohio University, Boston University, Buckinghamshire College, and Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center have utilized a battery of standardized psychological instruments to assess harm in populations of former group members. See Question 4.

  1. How can we usefully classify psychologically abusive groups?

It would be helpful to write a critical review of existing classification systems, including those proposed by sociologists (An �unassigned� task at present).

The psychometric development of the GPA Scale may lead to an empirically based classification scheme.

 

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Last revised: June 06, 2008
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