The Measurement of Irrationality and Rationality

  • Daniel O. DavidEmail author
  • Raymond DiGiuseppe
  • Anca Dobrean
  • Costina Ruxandra Păsărelu
  • Robert Balazsi


Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) assumes that when people are faced with adverse, activating events, their irrational beliefs generate dysfunctional feelings and maladaptive behaviors, while their rational beliefs generate functional feelings and adaptive behaviors (Ellis, 1994).


Rational emotive behavioral therapy assessment Irrationality assessment Psychometric properties Validity Fidelity 


Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) assumes that when people are faced with adverse, activating events, their irrational beliefs generate dysfunctional feelings and maladaptive behaviors, while their rational beliefs generate functional feelings and adaptive behaviors (Ellis, 1994).

Generally speaking, irrational beliefs are beliefs, which have no logical, empirical, and/or functional support, while rational beliefs are beliefs, which have logical, empirical, and/or functional support. Rational and irrational beliefs can be defined generally as cognitive errors/distortions and beliefs or they can be defined more narrowly (Ellis, 1977). In the general view of beliefs, rational and irrational beliefs include descriptions/inferences (i.e., cold cognitions) and their evaluations (i.e., hot cognitions) (see David, 2003; Wessler, 1982). By way of contrast, REBT (Ellis, 1977) proposed four irrational beliefs processes – which do not have logical, empirical, and functional support – and their counterpart rational beliefs processes, which have logical, empirical, and functional support. In this REBT view, rational and irrational beliefs refer only to evaluations/appraisal. The REBT irrational beliefs processes are demandingness (i.e., inflexible/rigid/absolutistic thinking), catastrophizing/awfulizing, frustration intolerance/low frustration tolerance, and global evaluation of self, other, and/or life. The alternative REBT rational beliefs processes are preferences (i.e., flexible/accepting thinking), badness, frustration tolerance/high frustration tolerance, and unconditional self, other, and/or life acceptance. While demandingness and preferences are primary beliefs, the other rational and irrational beliefs mentioned above are according to Ellis derivatives, more proximally related to various emotional and behavioral consequences.

Irrational beliefs (IBs ) and rational beliefs (RBs ) represent the core conceptual elements of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (Ellis, 1994) that contribute to emotional and behavioral disturbance. Therefore, investigations into the mechanisms involved in the etiology of emotional disturbance, requires that irrational and rational beliefs are assessed rigorously, accurately, using instruments with sound psychometric properties.

A brief history of irrational beliefs assessment begins with the development of self-report instruments in accordance to Ellis’ (1962) original list of 11 irrational beliefs. Initially, almost all the assessment instruments (Bessai, 1977; Jones, 1968; Malouff & Schutte, 1986; Newmark, Ann Frerking, Cook, & Newmark, 1973; Shorkey & Whiteman, 1977) were developed in accordance with these beliefs, most of them containing only one item for each belief (Macavei & McMahon, 2010). A major limitation of these instruments resides in the fact that the items did not reflect pure cognitive content (e.g., irrational beliefs), as many questions in these instruments were confounded by reference to emotional states (Smith, 1989). The mixture of cognitive and emotional items from those instruments was extremely problematic in terms of discriminant validity (Smith & Zurawski, 1983). Furthermore, another problem of the incipient measures of irrationality was the fact that they did not contain items formulated differently for rational and irrational beliefs, but almost exclusively assessed only irrational beliefs. Rationality scores were computed as the reverse of the irrationality scores. This is a major shortcoming of these instruments given the fact that (a) REBT theory assigns different roles for rational (e.g. support functional feelings and adaptive behaviors) and irrational beliefs (e.g., support dysfunctional feelings and maladaptive behaviors), (b) empirical evidence shows that higher scores on rational beliefs do not imply lower scores on irrational beliefs (Bernard, 1998) and (c) The distinction between cognitive processes and content areas is another limitation of the previously developed instruments for the assessment (David, Szentagotai, Kallay, & Macavei, 2005).

In an attempt to overcome these limitations in the assessment of irrational beliefs, several instruments have been developed (DiGiuseppe, Leaf, Gorman, & Robin, 2017; Hyland, Shevlin, Adamson, & Boduszek, 2014; Lindner, Kirkby, Wertheim, & Birch, 1999; Mogoase, Stefan, & David, 2013), that take into consideration: (a) the contamination problems (e.g., the newly developed instruments contained only cognitive items), (b) the separate assessment of rational and irrational beliefs (e.g., providing items that tackled either rational or irrational beliefs, offering separate subscales for rational and irrational beliefs) and (c) distinguish between cognitive processes and areas of content.

The assessment of irrational and rational beliefs is essential for evaluating the efficacy of REBT interventions, and to estimate accurately the relationship between irrational and rational beliefs and other constructs (e.g., distress). For instance, Vîslă, Flückiger, Holtforth, and David (2016) conducted a meta-analysis on the relationship between irrational beliefs and distress and demonstrated that the specific irrational beliefs assessment instruments used in the studies were a significant moderator of the relationship between IBs and emotional outcomes (e.g., anxiety and depression). The contamination of some items that overestimate the relationship between irrational beliefs and distress and the high reliabilities of several scales appeared to account for this moderation effect. Another important moderator that Vîslă et al. (2016) found was the developer/validator status of an author of the assessment instrument, which leads to smaller effect sizes. Namely, smaller effect sizes resulted for the association between irrational beliefs and anger or depression when the author of an article was also the developer/validator of an irrational beliefs scale.

Considerable debate exists in the literature concerning which is the best instrument to assess irrational beliefs (Hyland et al., 2017). An important aspect that has not been investigated in previous reviews of irrational beliefs assessment is the existence of self-reported instruments developed for specific populations or persons with specific disorders or clinical problems in addition to assessing general irrational beliefs and their psychometric properties.

This chapter presents available instruments designed for the assessment of IBs and rational beliefs as defined in REBT, as well as the existent research concerning their psychometric properties. First of all, concepts such as reliability, validity, diagnostic accuracy, responsiveness, and the close relationship between these psychometric concepts and clinical practice will be discussed. Then, self-report instruments that assess general irrational beliefs or specific cognitive irrational processes, as well as instruments designed for specific populations (e.g., women, parents, children, teachers), or specific content irrational beliefs scales (e.g., heath-related, academic performance-related), together with the empirical support will be presented in the corresponding section. Other means of assessing irrational beliefs, such as content analysis, or behavioral analog tasks will be discussed. One sub-section focuses on the individualized assessment of irrational beliefs (e.g., personalizing assessment according to patient’s unique characteristics, such as religion, or culture). Finally, future directions of research in the evidence-based assessment of irrationality are presented in the last section of this chapter.

Psychometric Characteristics of Clinical Measurement Instruments

Clinical measures must have strong psychometric evidence (Hunsley & Mash, 2008), the most important of which are high, or at least acceptable reliability, validity, and responsiveness. When choosing a measurement instrument, clinical researchers most often focus only on reliability and validity, while responsiveness is frequently an ignored psychometric attribute (Bagozzi, 1981). Reliability as a psychometric characteristic of a scale quantifies the degree of non-systematic error contained in a clinical score and usually is expressed by indicators such as internal consistency, test-retest reliability, and inter-rater agreement. Higher reliability means more consistent scores over time or across different raters. According to the existing standards, instruments used clinically should have internal consistency coefficient (estimated by Cronbach’s Coefficient) of 0.80 or above, test-retest coefficient at least between 0.75 and 0.85 and inter-rater agreement (estimated by intra-class correlation coefficient or Kappa coefficient, depending on the measurement scale, interval or categorical) above 0.70 (Baer & Blais, 2010). Reliability is a necessary, but not a sufficient, psychometric property of useful clinical scale. Validity refers to the degree of correspondence between what a scale actually measure and what it was intended to measure. According to this standard, scales of irrationality will be considered to have high validity only if they truly measure irrational beliefs and no other marginally or unrelated constructs to these. The types of validity are content validity, criterion validity, and construct validity (Foster & Cone, 1995). Content validity of a scale represents the extent to which the items of the scale express all relevant aspects of the measured construct. Distinct from criterion and construct-related validity, content validity is not directly estimated. Usually, it involves agreement among expert raters regarding how important a particular item is from the perspective of the measured theoretical concept (Haynes, Richard, & Kubany, 1995). Criterion (concurrent and predictive) and construct (convergent and discriminant) related validity are all expressed as a correlation coefficient between scale/subscale score and: (a) other scales that measure the same construct (concurrent validity), (b) future behavior (predictive validity), (c) other scales that measure related constructs (convergent validity) and, (d) other scales that measure different constructs (discriminant validity) (Borsboom, Mellenbergh, & van Heerden, 2004).

Self-report Instruments that Assess Irrational Beliefs

Table 4.1 describes the instruments included in this chapter and their psychometric properties.
Table 4.1

Characteristics of irrationality instruments included

Name of the instrument, acronym and authors

No. of items





Jones Irrational Beliefs Test (IBT; Jones, 1968)


10 subscales (Demand for approval, High self-expectations, Blame-proneness, Frustration Reactivity. Emotional irresponsibility, Anxious overconcern, Problem avoidance, Dependency, Helplessness, and Perfectionism)


α between 0.45 and 0.72

Test-retest (1 day) = 0.92a

No support the divergent validity relative to anxiety and depression; Convergent validity with RBI (Smith & Zurawski, 1983)

The Rational Behavior Inventory (RBI; Shorkey & Whiteman, 1977)


11 subscales (Catastrophizing, Guilt, Perfectionism, Need for approval, Caring and helping, Blame and punishment, Inertia and avoidance, Independence, Self-downing, Projected misfortune, and Control of emotions)



α = .86a; α between −0.01 and 0.43b; test-retest 3 days = 0.82a; test-retest at 10 days = 0.71a

Limited divergent validity (when separating emotional and non-emotional items, there were very small correlations with distress; Kienhorst, van den Bout, & de Wilde, 1993); Mixed support for convergent validity (small correlations with IBT)

The Irrational Belief Questionnaire (IBQ; Newmark et al., 1973)


Irrational beliefs (corresponding to Ellis originally identified beliefs)


α = 0.85a

Not investigated

The Common Beliefs Survey III (CBS; Bessai, 1977)


6 subscales (Perfectionism, Self-downing, Need for approval, Blame proneness, Importance of the past, Control of emotions)


α = 0.85a (Thorpe, Parker, & Barnes, 1992)

Convergent - Correlated with other measures of cognitions (SSASI) (Thorpe et al., 1992); Divergent validity (with scales that assess emotions)

The Idea Inventory (II; Kassinove, Crisci, & Tiegerman, 1977)


11 subscales corresponding to Ellis originally identified beliefs


α = 0.59a

Test-retest (4–6 weeks) between 0.81 and 0.87

Moderate divergent validity with neuroticism

The Belief Scale (BS; Malouff & Schutte, 1986)


Irrational beliefs


α = 0.80a

Test-retest at 2 weeks = 0.89

Convergent validity (correlated with IBT); Divergent validity - negative correlations with measures of social desirability (Malouff & Schutte, 1986), positive correlations with depression scores and with neuroticism; Warren and Zgourides (1989); Treatment sensibility

The Common Belief Inventory for Students (CBIS; Hooper & Layne, 1983)



11 subscales corresponding to Ellis originally identified beliefs


α = 0.85a

Test-retest reliability over 6 weeks (r = 0.84)

Treatment sensibility (changes in irrational beliefs after an RBT education program)

The Attitudes and Belief Inventory (ABI: Burgess, 1986, 1990)


13 subscales (Demandingness, Awfulizing, Low frustration tolerance,Global worth, Approval, Success, Comfort, Rational, Irrational, Self-referential, Non-self-referential, Focused, Unfocused)


α between 0.84 and 0.95b (DiGiuseppe & Leaf, 1990)

Discriminant validity (participants from the clinical sample endorsed more irrational beliefs than non-clinical participants)

The Attitudes and Belief Scale 2 (ABS-2; DiGiuseppe et al., 2017)

72 items

Global Irrationality Score

Irrationality, Rationality

4 Cognitive Processes domains (Demandingness, Awfulizing, Frustration Intolerance, Global evaluations of human worth, either of the self or others)

3 Content domains (Affiliation, Achievement, Comfort)


α = 0.97a, α between 0.83 and 0.97b

Convergent validity (correlated with other measures of dysfunctional thinking); Divergent validity (Correlated with measures of anxiety, affective disorders, alcohol dependence, and thought disorders); Discriminates between clinical and non-clinical samples

The Abbreviated Version of the Attitudes and Belief Scale 2 (AV-ABS2; Hyland et al., 2014)


4 irrational belief processes (Demandingness, Catastrophizing, Frustration Intolerance, Self-downing), 4 rational belief processes (Preferences, Realistic evaluation of badness, Frustration tolerance, and Self-acceptance)


Composite reliability = 0.32–0.78b

Not investigated

The General Attitude and Belief Scale (GABS; Bernard, 1998)


7 subscales (Need for Approval, Need for Achievement, Need for Comfort, Self-Downing, Other-Downing, Demands for Fairness, and Rationality)


α > 0.80a,b

Divergent validity (correlated with measures of emotional distress and with measures of life satisfaction)

The Shortened General Attitude and Belief Scale (SGABS; Lindner et al., 1999)


8 subscales (Irrationality, Rationality, Need for achievement, Need for comfort, Self-downing, Other-downing, Need for approval, Demand for fairness)


Test-retest (3 days) = 0.91a, between 0.65 and 0.87b

α between 0.77 and 0.85b

Convergent & divergent validity (Stronger correlations with others measures of irrationality than with measures of psychological distress)

The Survey of Personal Beliefs (SPB; Demaria, Kassinove, & Dill, 1989)


5 subscales (Self-directed shoulds, Other-directed shoulds, Awfulizing beliefs, Low frustration tolerance, and Self-worth)


α = 0.89a, between 0.57 and 0.72b

Test-retest at 21 days = 0.87a, between 0.65 and 0.87b

Convergent & divergent validity - higher correlations with a measure of irrationality than with measures of depression, hopelessness, and anxiety (Nottingham, 1992)

The Ellis Emotional Efficiency Inventory (EEEI; Ellis, 1992)


3 factors (Anti-awfulizing, Anti-self-downing and Anti-low frustration tolerance)


α = 0.72

Divergent validity (correlated with measures of the domains of the five-factor personality model; Blau, Fuller, & Vaccaro, 2006)

The Evaluative Beliefs Scale (EBS; Chadwick, Trower, & Dagnan, 1999)


3 subscales (Self-self statements, Other-self statements, Self-other statements)


α between 0.86 and 0.92b

Divergent validity (Other-self and self-self negative evaluations, but not self-other, correlated with measures depression and anxiety)

The Unconditional Self-Acceptance Questionnaire (USAQ; Chamberlain & Haaga, 2001)


Unconditional self-acceptance


α = 0.72a

Poor discriminant validity – highly positively correlated with a measure of self-esteem; negatively correlated with measures of anxiety and depression (Chamberlain & Haaga, 2001)

Unconditional Acceptance Questionnaire (UAQ; D. David, Cotet, Szentagotai, McMahon, & DiGiuseppe, 2013)


Unconditional acceptance


α = 0.95a

Convergent validity (positively correlated with other measures of unconditional acceptance and negatively correlated with a measure of self-esteem; David et al., 2013); Divergent validity (UAQ negatively associated with distress, automatic thoughts, and irrational beliefs)

The Rational and Irrational Beliefs Scale (RAIBS; Mogoase et al., 2013)


2 subscales (Rational, Irrational)


α between 0.87 and 0.94b

Convergent (correlated with ABS2) & divergent validity (correlated with general distress, with functional/dysfunctional emotions)

The O’Kelly Women’s Belief Scales (O’Kelly, 2011)


5 subscales (Demandingness, Awfulizing, Low Frustration Tolerance, Self-Downing, and General Traditional Belief)


Test-retest between 0.79 and 0.91

α = 0.95a, α between 0.75 and 0.84b

Convergent (correlated with other instruments measuring attitudes and schemas); Divergent validity (not associations with extroversion)

The Child and Adolescent Scale of Irrationality (CASI; Bernard & Cronan, 1999)


Self-downing, Intolerance of frustrating rules, Intolerance of work frustration and Demands for fairness


α = 0.92a; α between 0.62 and 0.86b

Divergent validity (correlations with measures of emotions and behavioral problems)

The Parent Irrational Beliefs – Revised (PIB; Joyce, 1995)


3 subscales (Low Frustration Tolerance, Demandingness, and Self Worth)


α = 0.75a

Discriminant validity (correlated with emotional measures); Treatment sensibility (changes in several subscales correlated with changes in measures of emotions); no significant correlation between the Demandingness subscale and measures of emotions

Parent rational and irrational scale (P-RIBS; Gavița, David, DiGiuseppe, & DelVecchio, 2011)


3 subscales (Rational beliefs, Irrational beliefs, Global evaluation)


α between 0.71 and 0.83b; α 0.73a

Test-retest = 0.78

Convergent (correlated with GABS, USAQ) & divergent validity (correlated with parent distress)

The Teacher Irrational Belief Scale (TIBS; Bernard, 1988, 2016)


4 subscales (Self-downing, Authoritarianism, Demands for Justice, and Low Frustration Tolerance)


α = 0.85a, α between 0.70 and 0.78b (Bernard, 2016)

Test-retest = 0.80a

between 0.64 and 0.79 (Bora, Bernard, Trip, Decsei-Radu, & Chereji, 2009)

Moderate convergent validity with ABS2 (Bora et al., 2009)

Divergent validity (with stress) (Bernard, 2016); Treatment sensitivity (Ugwoke et al., 2017)

The Employee Rational and Irrational Beliefs Scale (E-RIBS; Gaviţa & Duţă, 2013)


3 subscales (Rational beliefs, Irrational beliefs, Global evaluation)


α = 0.74a, α between 0.70 and 0.83b

Convergent validity (correlated with GABS-SF subscales); Divergent validity (Correlated with measures of total emotional distress, dysfunctional negative emotions, anxious and depressed mood)

The Manager Rational and Irrational Beliefs Scale (M-RIBS; O. A. David, 2013)


3 subscales (Rational beliefs, Irrational beliefs, Global evaluation)


α = 0.76a

Convergent validity (correlated with GABS subscales)

The Work-Related Irrational Beliefs Questionnaire (WIB-Q; van Wijhe, Peeters, & Schaufeli, 2013)


4 subscales (Performance demands, Co-workers’ approval, Failure, and Control)


α between 0.77 and 0.83b

Divergent validity (correlated with measures of negative emotions and workaholism)

The irrational food beliefs scale (IFB; Osberg, Poland, Aguayo, & MacDougall, 2008)


2 subscales (Irrational food beliefs, Rational food beliefs)


α between 0.74 and 0.89b

Divergent validity (scores were only weakly to moderately related to various dimensions of psychopathology)

Irrational performance beliefs inventory (iPBI; Turner et al., 2016)


4 subscales (Primary irrational beliefs, Low-frustration tolerance, Awfulizing, and Depreciation subscale)


α between 0.90 and 0.96b

Convergent (correlated with SGABS subscales) and divergent validity (correlated with measures of anger, anxiety, and depression)

The Exam-Related Beliefs Scale (EBS; Montgomery, David, Dilorenzo, & Schnur, 2007)


2 subscales (Rational beliefs, Irrational beliefs)


α = 0.74a

Divergent validity (correlated with distress and response expectancies)

Note. aalpha Cronbach computed for the total scale, balpha Cronbach for subscales, GABS-SF General Attitudes and Beliefs Scale–Short Form, RET rational emotive therapy

General Irrational Beliefs Assessment Instruments

Scales Assessing’ Original Model of Irrational Beliefs

Many of the earlier instruments attempted to assess these 11 irrational beliefs and had subscales that corresponded to these categories. The beliefs included factual errors, demands, catastrophizing statements, condemnations of the self and others, and a lack of endurance and/or perseverance. Ellis (1977) changed his theory and proposed that absolutistic thinking and rigidity thinking, called demandingness, represented the core or central cognitive processes underlying psychopathology. Demandingness as expressed in words such as “Must,” “Should,” “Demand,” or “Ought” to do something, think something, or feel something. Ellis’ revised theory proposed that three other irrational beliefs Awfulizing (AWF ), Low Frustration Tolerance (now called Frustration Intolerance ), and Global Evaluations of Human Worth concerning the self or others were derivatives of demandingness. Measures of irrational and rational beliefs differ in the types of beliefs they measure -either the original 11 irrational beliefs or the more recent conceptualization of the four cognitive processes.

Scales included in this category are: Jones Irrational Beliefs Test (IBT; Jones, 1968), The Rational Behavior Inventory (RBI; Shorkey & Whiteman, 1977), The Irrational Belief Questionnaire (IBQ ; (Newmark et al., 1973), The Common Beliefs Survey III (CBS ; Bessai, 1977), The Idea Inventory (II; Kassinove et al., 1977), The Belief Scale (Malouff & Schutte, 1986) and The Common Belief Inventory for Students (CBIS ; Hooper & Layne, 1983).

Scales Assessing Ellis’ Revised Theory of Four Cognitive Processes

Below, we consider scales that reflect Ellis’s (1977) revised theory and categorized irrational beliefs into the four cognitive processes of demandingness, awfulizing, frustration intolerance and global evaluations of human worth.

The scales included in this category are:
  • The Attitudes and Belief Inventory (ABI : Burgess, 1986, 1990)

  • The Attitudes and Belief Scale 2 (ABS-2 ; DiGiuseppe et al., 2017)

  • The Abbreviated Version of the Attitudes and Belief Scale 2 (AV-ABS2 ; Hyland et al., 2014)

  • The General Attitude and Belief Scale (GABS ; Bernard, 1998)

  • The Shortened General Attitude and Belief Scale (SGABS ; Lindner et al., 1999)

  • The Survey of Personal Beliefs (SPB ; Demaria et al., 1989), with two abbreviated forms, namely a 30-items SPB (Flett, Hewitt, & Cheng, 2008) and a 12-item SPB (Watson, Simmons, Weathington, O’Leary, & Culhane, 2009)

  • The Irrational Beliefs Inventory (IBI ; Koopmans, Sanderman, Timmerman, & Emmelkamp, 1994)

  • The Ellis Emotional Efficiency Inventory (EEEI ; Ellis, 1992)

  • The Evaluative Beliefs Scale (EBS ; Chadwick et al., 1999)

Scales Assessing Specific Cognitive Irrational Processes

Scales included in this category are: the Unconditional Self-Acceptance Questionnaire (USAQ ; Chamberlain & Haaga, 2001), the Unconditional Acceptance Questionnaire (UAQ ; (D. David et al., 2013), and the Rational and Irrational Beliefs Scale (RAIBS ; Mogoase et al., 2013).

Scales for Specific Populations

In this category, we included scales developed specifically for:
  • Women. The O’Kelly Women’s Belief Scales (O’Kelly, 2011);

  • Youths. The Child and Adolescent Scale of Irrationality (CASI ; Bernard & Cronan, 1999) which is an adaptation and expansion of the Child and Adolescent Scale of Irrationality (CASI; Bernard & Laws, 1988)

  • Parents. The Parent Irrational Beliefs – Revised (PIB ; Joyce, 1995) which is, in fact, a revision of the Belief Scale for Parents (Berger, 1983); Parent rational and irrational scale (P-RIBS; Gavița et al., 2011);

  • Teachers. The Teacher Irrational Belief Scale (TIBS ; Bernard, 1988, 2016);

  • Managers and employees. The Employee Rational and Irrational Beliefs Scale; The Manager Rational and Irrational Beliefs Scale (M-RIBS ; O. A. David, 2013); The Work-Related Irrational Beliefs Questionnaire (WIB-Q ; van Wijhe et al., 2013).

Specific Content Irrational Beliefs

In this category we included scales developed specifically to assess:
  • Health-related irrational beliefs. The irrational food beliefs scale (IFB ; Osberg et al., 2008);

  • Academic performance-related irrational beliefs. Irrational performance beliefs inventory (iPBI ; Turner et al., 2016); The Exam-Related Beliefs Scale (EBS ; Montgomery et al., 2007).

Strengths and weaknesses of the existent instruments

One main limitation of the existing instruments that assess rational and irrational beliefs is the contamination of items with terms of distress and behavior problems. This could have resulted in spuriously higher correlations between the instruments that assess irrational beliefs (e.g., IBT) and measures of disturbance. This limitation is a characteristic of those instruments developed to assess the original model of irrational beliefs (e.g., IBT, RBI, IBQ, CBS III, II, BS). Another limitation is related to the fact that several scales do not have reverse items (e.g., BS). The factorial structure of the scales was investigated in several papers, however, in different replication studies conducted, the initial proposed factorial structure did not fit the data well.

For instance, the factorial structure of ABS-2 was investigated in a sample of participants recruited from the Republic of Ireland and the Republic of Kosovo; however, the model fit indicators indicated poor model fit (Hyland et al., 2014). Despite the fact that more recently developed scales were developed so as to overcome major limitations regarding the contamination problems, still, several problems exist that affected the validity of such instruments. For instance, Hyland et al. (2017) examined several of the problems in the manner in which the items of one of the most frequently used instruments (ABS-II) are formulated, which could have affected the validity of the scale. Namely, the proposed reasons were: (a) items are formulated so that they refer to the cognitive process and the context in which they appear; (b) there is a high similarity between items, as for instance items that measure frustration intolerance correlated highly with items measuring demandingness; (c) rational beliefs items have very low item loadings, they have a poor discrimination among factors, therefore the rational scale of this instrument could be highly problematic.

Another limitation is related to their psychometric properties, namely to internal consistency, where for instance we found instruments with unacceptable Alpha Cronbach coefficients. Test-retest reliability is investigated in very few studies. Very few of the instruments have been used with clinical participants in addition to community samples. Other limitations previously documented in Macavei and McMahon review (2010) is the fact that several scales have only a total irrationality score, stating that a rationality score could be computed by summing the items reverse coded.

Also, by using the item response theory, strong evidence exists for several items of frequently used instruments that have a higher discriminative power. For instance, using item-response-theory, Thorpe et al. (2007) investigated how well the items discriminate between participants with low and high trait level of irrational beliefs. Their results indicated that almost half of the items discriminated moderately, while four items discriminated highly and ten items had a very high discrimination value. Their results showed that CBS was an adequate instrument only when participants had an irrationality level situated with half of a deviation unit above the sample’s mean. Given the fact that the item response theory framework used showed that the instrument failed to measure irrationality adequately, Thorpe et al. (2007) proposed the development of a new instrument, namely an irrationality screening instrument, comprised of four items of the CBS, namely those items that had satisfactory discrimination among male and female participants, covered a large interval of difficulty, and met the goodness-of-fit criteria of the proposed model.

The item response theory was also used for another instrument, namely for GABS (Bernard, 1998). Owings et al. (2013) selected the best six items from each subscale with the most informative value in order to develop a briefer scale that could be used in clinical settings. Furthermore, the authors investigated the most informative items representing the four irrational themes (e.g., Needs for Achievement, Approval, Comfort, and Demands for Fairness) and processes (e.g., Demandingness, Awfulizing, Low frustration tolerance, and Self-downing). Furthermore, it seemed that for all four processes, the item reflecting global rating was the most informative for irrationality, while low frustration was the lowest. This means participants with high levels of irrationality agree with global evaluation items, while those who have low irrationality tend to choose low frustration tolerance items (Owings et al., 2013).

Another important aspect is that instruments have been refined across time, and where limitations have been found, revised versions with fewer items were developed, or with items that assess important irrational beliefs that were not accounted. This is the case of the USAQ scale (Chamberlain & Haaga, 2001). Two important limitations of this instrument were: a) the scale assesses only self-acceptance, with no information regarding other and life-acceptance, relevant to the REBT theory and b) it also contains items related to self-esteem, which leads to a contamination effect. Therefore, UAQ scale (D. David et al., 2013) was developed in order to overcome existent limitations in the assessment of unconditional acceptance.

Towards a gold standard in the assessment of irrationality/rationality

Cohen et al. (2008) propose a framework for the evidence-based assessment that is very similar to that used in the assessment for evidence-based treatment. Namely, instruments could be included in one of the three categories: well-established assessment, approaching well-established assessment and promising assessment, according to the existent evidence for their psychometric properties (good validity and reliability), number of teams that has published in a peer-review journal, and the amount of information regarding the instrument (instrument and manual) that allows replication.

Therefore, given this framework, in order to include in the category of well-established assessment, instruments that assess rational and irrational beliefs should fulfill three criteria: (a) at least two-peer reviewed articles published by different teams of investigators; (b) the instrument and a manual should be provided upon request, and (c) adequate psychometric properties (reliability and validity) published in at least one peer-reviewed article.

Other Types of Assessment

Content Analysis

Given the fact that self-reported instruments can present biases in capturing irrational beliefs (e.g., social desirability), other means of assessment need to be considered in the measurement of irrational beliefs. Solomon, Haaga, Brody, Kirk, and Friedman (1998) used the Articulated Thoughts in Simulated Situations (ATSS ; Davison, Robins, & Johnson, 1983) to assess irrational beliefs along with the Beliefs Scale (Malouff & Schutte, 1986). Namely, participants were required to imagine themselves in four negative scenarios, which were presented on an audiotape, and they were instructed to think aloud, their thoughts were audio-taped and transcribed for the content analysis. The two relevant scenarios referred to rejection from boyfriend or rejection at a book club, while the two autonomy related scenarios referred to being demoted at work or owing a large sum of money for taxes, therefore, having an increased risk for prosecution. Five raters, trained in this procedure as well as in REBT, used a 7 point scale, ranging from 1 (Not at all irrational) to 7 (Very irrational) in order to code participants’ answers and to provide an overall irrationality score.

Eckhardt, Barbour, and Davison (1998) used the ATSS in an anger arousal situation with martially violence men nonviolent men who were satisfied with their marital relationship. The total irrational beliefs score had very high intercoder reliability (r = .92); while the interrater reliability for the four irrational belief score ranged from 0.67 (Awfulizing) to 0.94 (Low frustration tolerance), with a mean of 0.85. Using discriminant function analyses they found that the ATSS irrational belief scores differentiated between maritally violent men and their nonviolent peers, and between severely aggressive and mildly aggressive husbands.

Behavior Analogue Tasks for Frustration Intolerance

Rodman, Daughters, and Lejuez (2009) summarized the existent behavioral analogue laboratory tasks that can be used in the assessment of frustration intolerance. Behavioral analog tasks have been used to assess parenting-related frustration intolerance. For instance, a study showed that parental irrational beliefs, namely parental frustration intolerance, can be assessed effectively using analog tasks assessment (Rodriguez, Russa, & Kircher, 2015). In this study, to assess parenting-related frustration intolerance, participating parents completed an unsolvable task while listening to a child’s crying or tantrums. Another analog task that has been investigated is called the Frustration Intolerance Task (McElroy & Rodriguez, 2008). During this task, participants perform a task on computers where they have to find the exit to a grocery store while listening to a crying baby. In both tasks, frustration intolerance is measured as the amount of time, in seconds, in which participants quit the sessions. Lower time to quitting is associated with low frustration tolerance.

Tailoring Assessment According to Clients’ Unique Characteristics

As previously stated, the REBT assessment is a dynamic process (DiGiuseppe, Doyle, Dryden, & Backx, 2013); therefore, it can be adapted to clients’ development (e.g., children’s age, clients with mental disability), religion (see Johnson & Nielsen, 1998), and culture (see Agiurgioaei, 2014). There are significant differences in how clients with depression versus non-clinical participants respond to a self-reported questionnaire on irrationality (DiGiuseppe et al., 2013). Taking this into consideration, the existing differences between participants, some authors proposed that clinicians and researchers individualize the assessment of irrationality (see for example of such a task in Solomon, Arnow, Gotlib, & Wind, 2003).


Despite the fact that many instruments exist to assess rational and irrational beliefs, both generally, for specific populations (children and adolescents, parents, teachers) and in specific organizations (e.g., organizational, academic etc.) much research needs to be conducted to ascertain their psychometric properties. For most of the instruments reviewed, only data pertaining internal consistency was reported, with no further investigation of other psychometric properties such as measurement invariance and validity for instance.

Also, considering reliability, even though for most of the instruments the internal consistency for the overall scale was adequate, for the instruments’ subscales the reliability (e.g., Cronbach alpha) coefficients were much lower. This raises some questions regarding their usefulness in capturing several types of irrational beliefs (e.g., demandingness, low frustration tolerance, awfulizing or global evaluation), or for rational beliefs assessment. There could be differences in how men and women, community and clinical samples, or participants from different cultures understand and interpret the items related to rational and irrational beliefs. Before conducting group comparisons, it is highly important to establish the measurement invariance. Only by conducting such investigations might we conclude that indeed there are significant differences in the latent irrationality variable, rather than measurement artifacts.

Despite the fact that there is an important movement in the literature towards evidence-based assessment concerning emotional outcomes both in adult and child populations (e.g., depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder), research is scarce regarding the evidence-based assessment of cognitive processes involved in various forms of CBT, particularly of interest here, irrational and rational beliefs. Therefore, the ongoing cross-cultural research program started at the Albert Ellis Institute, focused on the measurements of rational and irrational beliefs in various cultures, is fundamental for the REBT field ( The development of sound instruments for the assessment of rational and irrational beliefs can have important relevance for research, but also for clinical practice. Having adequate instruments could inform treatment, could help in monitoring treatment effects and could help investigate their evolution over time.

The vast majority of the existing studies on psychometric qualities of rationality and irrationality ratings scales (excepting a few, see for example Owings et al., 2013; Thorpe et al., 2007) have been run within the framework of classical theory of measurement, which is based on relatively „weak assumptions” (Kean & Reilly, 2014). As a consequence, the estimated psychometric indices (item discrimination, item difficulty, Cronbach’s Alpha, etc.) do not reflect any particularities of the clinical assessment instrument, as they are specific to the sample on the basis of which they were estimated (Graham, 2006; Miller, 1995). These psychometric indicators might provide information about the target population only to the extent that the sample is representative of a given population (Reise & Waller, 2009). The use of Item Response Theory (IRT ) as a methodological framework of psychometric analysis of assessment instruments is not a common practice in clinical research (Reise & Waller, 2009). IRT is a measurement theory based on strong assumptions. Its main aim is to establish a mathematical relationship between the used items, the response to these items, and how these responses are linked to the measured trait (Hambleton & Jones, 1993). In the context of clinical research, two of the most commonly cited IRT procedures are exploring the relationship between the trait level variations and the measurement standard error variations and determining the individual differences in the assessed trait independently of the sample of items used (Embretson & Reise, 2000). Even if the IRT approach can increase the construct validity of a measure, only a few studies have used this method to investigate the relationship between items and construct (Owings et al., 2013). We recommend that further psychometric studies should take into account this perspective.

A major limitation of many cognitive measures in the field of cognitive-behavior therapies is that they are highly contaminated with distress items. However, in this regard, REBT is somehow more advanced, as the more recent scales of rational and irrational beliefs (e.g., ABS II; GABS), controlled for such a contamination. Moreover, many cognitive measures in the CBT field combined different cognitive constructs under the same measure, thus contaminating the measures and complicating the test of the specific CBT theories. For example, Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire/ATQ, Young Schema Questionnaire, or Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale combine items referring to descriptions/inferences with those referring to evaluations/appraisal. Vîslă, Holtforth, and David (2015) found that in the ATQ the relationship between descriptive/inferential cognitions and distress was mediated by evaluative beliefs (i.e., IBs). These is in line with the REBT’s claim that cold cognitions lead to psychological disturbance only if evaluated.

Future research conducted on the assessment of rational and irrational beliefs should take into consideration the existent limitations and develop sound instruments that are sensitive to differentiate between rational and irrational beliefs involved in functional and dysfunctional emotions. Furthermore, as irrational beliefs are considered mechanisms of change in REBT, we need to have assessment instruments sensitive to changes during treatment (e.g., weekly assessments).

Given the different modalities in which clinical assessment can be conducted, we should take into consideration the existence of remotely-delivered assessments (e.g., delivered via online platforms, computerized, or smartphone apps) that have the potential to overcome several problems associated with traditional assessment of irrational beliefs (e.g., social desirability). The investigation of the accuracy of such technology drive administration in capturing rational and irrational beliefs, as well as their sensitivity to changes in rational and irrational beliefs over time or as a function of treatment is a desiderate that needs to be considered by future investigations related to REBT assessment.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel O. David
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Raymond DiGiuseppe
    • 3
  • Anca Dobrean
    • 1
  • Costina Ruxandra Păsărelu
    • 1
  • Robert Balazsi
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Clinical Psychology and PsychotherapyThe International Institute for the Advanced Studies of Psychotherapy and Applied Mental Health, Babeș-Bolyai UniversityCluj-NapocaRomania
  2. 2.Icahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologySt. John’s UniversityJamaicaUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyBabeș-Bolyai UniversityCluj-NapocaRomania

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