2011. Vol.2, No.4, 331-334
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.24052
Defense Mechanisms and Respiratory Parameters
Uwe Hentschel1, Thomas van Praag2, Manfred Kießling3
1Department of Psychology, University of Leiden, Leiden, The Netherlands;
2Cope, Leiden, The Netherlands;
3GPS, Mainz, Germany.
Received March 16th, 2011; revised May 14th, 2011; accepted June 11th, 2011.
The purpose of the study was to look the relation of stress, respiration and gender to defense mechanisms. A
questionnaire was used to measure Turning against Object, Projection and Reversal and showed a negative rela-
tion to stress, measured by a high-speed task at the PC, representing a cognitive task. Defense mechanisms
showed also a negative relationship to the respiratory variables, Amplitude per minute and Time in. Steepness
and Amplitude per minute showed a greater value for women. Pause at the end of inhalation, Time in and Fre-
quency gave a greater value for men, who also showed more stress. Thus defense mechanisms can obviously
help to prevent cognitive stress, with respiration they showed mixed results. Future research should especially
pay more attention to the existing gender differences in respiration as well as in defense mechanisms.
Keywords: Defense Mechanisms, Respiratory Variables, Gender Differences, Optimal Scaling
Defense mechanisms have been introduced as unconscious
variables that can be chosen by the respondents according to
their prevailing needs. In fact, they are trait variables that are
not so easily changed. Vaillant (1977) especially has shown that
they are pretty stable without any psychotherapeutic intervene-
tion and remain constant over more than 30 years. Kragh (1985;
cf. also Smith & Hentschel, 2004) has also found fairly stable
patterns for defense mechanisms.
This report used questionnaire items to measure defense
mechanisms by means of the ‘Fragebogen zu Konfliktbewälti-
gungsstrategien’ (FKBS) [Conflict-Solving Strategies Inven-
tory] (Hentschel, Kießling, & Wiemers, 1998). The FKBS
shows, among other results, relationships to pain (Egle et al.,
1989), psychotherapeutic interventions (cf. Geiser, Imbierovicz,
Conrad, Wegener, & Liedtke, 2005; Liedtke, Künsebeck, &
Lempa, 1990), sleep disturbances (Hermann-Maurer et al.,
1992), and dreams (Hentschel, Van der Voort, & Davids, 2007).
The FKBS has some projective components, in contrast to
many other questionnaire items by its mode of presentation,
like the Defense Mechanisms Inventory (DMI) (Gleser &
Ihilevich, 1969).
Breathing is a variable under unconscious as well as con-
scious control. People can easily shift from one to the other
mode, but mostly, under normal circumstances, we do not pay
attention to our respiration (Harver & Lorig, 2000). The normal
breathing cycle has 3 phases, which in the ideal case, have an
equal length: inspiration, expiration and pause. Respiration
consists mostly of situational aspects (Wientjes, 1993). The
respiratory parameters are thus, to a greater extent, state vari-
Both measures—respiratory parameters as well as defenses—
usually show gender differences. For defenses, this difference
has been avoided often by using only male respondents. Also
we started our breathing research with a pure male sample (cf.
Van Praag, 1995) and then detected the gender differences.
The first author has together with his co-authors (Hentschel,
Smith, & Draguns, 2004) summarized many results on defense
mechanisms as revealing differences in information processing,
a link that also has been evident in respiration (Wientjes,
Grossman, Gaillard, & Defares, 1986).
Breathing variables can be constructed from the main respi-
ratory cycle, with almost no limit in number, if one admits
higher correlations of them. The main difference is that de-
fenses are trait variables and breathing has to be regarded
mainly as a state.
The whole sample comprised hundred and three persons, 50
males and 53 females, in the age range of 18 to 55 years. The
age range was equal for the 2 groups. They were students or
members of a Dutch air company. All were volunteers and
received the test results and were invited to a cup of coffee or
To measure defense mechanisms we used the FKBS [Con-
flict-Solving Strategies Inventory], which is mainly docu-
mented in the German manual (cf. Hentschel et al, 1998). A
native speaker made the translation into Dutch. Although there
is a large database, there are no official norms for the Dutch
version, thus the reliability values in Table 1 come from the
German manual. The lack of norms has however no influence
on our results, in which norm values were not used. All FKBS
variables (15 in total) were used in the beginning and exclu-
sions were made later on the basis of the ANOVA results (see
Method of Analysis section). The FKBS has good reliabilities
(all Cronbach’s Alphas equal or are above .78 in the German
standardization sample) and knows 5 defenses (cf. Hentschel et
al., 1998). The FKBS has been developed basically in analogy
to the DMI (Gleser & Ihilevich, 1969), but has fewer defenses,
only 2 modes of answering (feeling and doing) and mainly
other stories. Three mechanisms of defense were included in
the present analysis (TAO, Turning against Object; PRO, Pro-
jection; REV, Reversal). The defense mechanisms in the FKBS
can be grouped according to the ways of responding to the
threat (feeling, doing, and total scores). The defenses included
in this report and the method of response, are given in Table 1.
We have measured respiration by two belts, one around the
chest and one around the stomach. As there were too many
respiratory variables in the beginning, a selection had to be
made there as well. We have used 2 methods for doing this (cf.
Method of Analysis section). The respiration parameters used,
are summarized in Table 2.
Stress was imposed by a speeded multiple decision task,
presented to the respondents on a personal computer. The task
consisted of reacting as soon as possible to 4 different colors
and reacting at the same time to high and low tones presented
via earphones. The stress task is described in more detail in
Table 4.
The participants were administered the FKBS. They were
fitted with 2 belts to measure the breathing variables. Then the
timed decision task was administered, measuring the breathing
variables continuously. Their sex was registered; their age was
limited by admission to the tasks. All ordinal groups were
formed by the grouping program of SPSS (1990) for their use
in the further analysis.
Method of Anal ysi s
We shall present our results mainly by means of a nonlinear
canonical correlation analysis; i.e. OVERALS (SPSS, 1990). In
this program, the scaling levels of the variables included can be
chosen (defenses, respiration and the stress variables were
taken as ordinal, gender as single nominal). The program gives
a Fit value, i.e. how much the results correspond with the data
at hand; it has also the advantage that the results can be pre-
sented in form of a graphical model. For OVERALS we have
used a grouping of the cases with different numbers of groups
(cf. Tables 1 and 2 and the Instruments section) and limited the
output to two dimensions.
Fit and Loss are the only estimates one gets, i.e. OVERALS
does not give a real test result for the included variables. Both
values provide only a comparison of the weighted sum of the
included variables with the object scores, which in our case are
the values of the respondents. The indications are in general,
comparable to other statistical procedures, lower with a greater
number of the included variables. For further details of the
method see Van der Burg, de Leeuw and Verdegaal (1988) and
Bijleveld and Van der Burg (1998).
Given the problematic gender differences, among other
things, we have applied many ANOVA’s. Those analyses shall
however not be reported in detail as they only were used to
select the most important variables by the post hoc results of
the ANOVA’s. For the ANOVA analyses we have divided the
whole sample in almost equal parts into an analysis and a vali-
dation group. Only variables that have shown significant results
in both analyses, in the analysis as well as in the validation
group, were included in OVERALS. We thus can lean with our
results also on traditional p-values.
Exclusions of the respiratory variables were based on the
ANOVA results and too high inter-correlations among them.
As the remaining respiratory parameters still were not com-
pletely independent, a Pearson correlation analysis of the used
ones (Minute ventilation, Steepness, Frequency, Pause at the
end of inhalation, Time in) is also presented in Table 3 (see the
Results section).
We ended up finally with 3 defense mechanisms and 5 respi-
ratory variables.
Table 1 gives a description and an overview of the abbrevia-
tions used for the defenses, and the number of groups of the
respondents. Table 2 presents a description for the respiratory
variables and an overview of the abbreviations used, together
with the number of groups of the respondents. Table 3 gives the
inter-correlations of the respiratory variables. In Table 4 the
stress induction is presented. Figure 1 presents the graphical
summary of OVERALS with 2 dimensions. As far as it con-
cerns variables with an ordinal level, projected centroids are
given. For variables with a nominal scale level, centroids are
used. The arrows always represent the highest value of the re-
spective variable. The lengths of the respective lines represent
the importance of a relationship, i.e. a vector. The Fit of the
OVERALS solution (1.02) has to be evaluated as pretty good,
and the Loss is accordingly 0.98. If the solution would be in
perfect agreement with the data, the maximum value would
equal 2.0 (the number of dimensions in the OVERALS solu-
It is remarkable that a high level of defense mechanisms
(TAO, PRO, REV) has a negative relationship to cognitive
stress (high speed of a multiple decision task on the PC). For
Table 1.
The defense mechanisms used in the analysis.
Defense mechanisms Abbreviation in Figure 1 Form of response usedMeaning or example Cronbach’s α Number of groups
(high 2, low 1) (ordinal)
Reversal REV Feeling
Thinking that the frustrator is a
nice person .80 2
Turning against object TAO Doing Smashing a door .90 2
Projection PRO Feeling
Thinking that the frustrator has
done it with vexatious motives.78 2
Table 2.
The respiratory variables i n the OVERALS solution.
Respiratory parameters Abbreviation in Figure 1 Number of groups
Minute ventilation Ampl./min. 4
Steepness Steepness 6
Frequency Freq. 6
Pause at the end of
inhalation Pause 4
Time of inhalation Time in 2
Figure 1.
The OVERALS solution for defenses, respiratory parameters, stress and
the gender of the respondent s.
the respiration parameters the results are however mixed. Min-
ute volume (Ampl./min.) and Time in are in contrary direction
to the defenses, whereas Pause is in-between, Steepness and
Frequency go together with the defense mechanisms. Thus
these respiration variables show a higher non-linear relationship
to the defense mechanisms. Male respondents seem to have
experienced more stress than the females. They react more with
respiration also (higher values of Time in, Pause and Fre-
quency). The females show higher values of Minute ventilation
(Ampl./min.) and Steepness.
A combination of state and trait variables seems especially
promising, if the trait variables also show some change, like
defense mechanisms do with psychotherapy for example. With
regard to defense mechanisms, questionnaires and other meth-
ods of registering them usually do not correlate to a higher
degree, which is basically a theoretical problem. This holds also
true for the FKBS with at least some projective aspects. The
relationship to different outside criteria may be however never-
theless satisfactory. This has to be cross-validated for respira-
tion, of course. It is relatively new that respiration is regarded
as an information-processing variable. This should open up the
relationship of respiration to more personality variables that
have some connection with information processing.
Usually only the chest changes of air in the lungs are regis-
tered for respiration, but for the relationship with emotions and
defense mechanisms it is better to use two belts: A chest belt
and a stomach belt, or any other measures, are thus recom-
In the in the beginning of our research, we had high hopes
for differentiation between chest and stomach respiration.
Adding females to the sample ended most of these hopes. More
research seems recommended here.
It is very unfortunate that speech and respiration cannot be
measured together, i.e. that all tasks that are to be studied in
Table 3.
Pearson correlations o f the respiratory parameters.
Minute ventil. Steepness Freq. Pause in
Minute ventilation (Amplitude/min.: chest and stomach) -- -- -- --
Steepness (at the beginning of exhaling; low values = high steepness) .66** -- -- --
Frequency (Freq.: 1/(cycle length) × 60 .13 .22* -- --
Pause in (pause at the end of inhalation) .55** .60** .29** --
Time in (% of inhalation of the whole respiration cycle) .29** .11 .28** .46**
Note: **Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (two tailed); *Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (two tailed).
Table 4.
Stress induction.
Speeded reactions to colours on the PC Red Green Blue Yellow
Arrow keys for: high, low, left, right Colors in squares
Speeded reactions to tones coming via earphones
Low tone z to be pressed
High tone x to be pressed
relation to respiration should be non-verbal. Even if decisions
are required, like in our case, they should happen in silence.
Pressing computer keys, as we used them as answers, would be
a solution here. Given the relationship of stress and Minute
volume a cross-validation is to be found in Wientjes (1993). In
future research also the induction of stress could be evaluated,
as probably not all respondents act according to the high-speed
We regard our results in spite of all rigorous controls still as
preliminary, but a publication of them seems, according to our
judgment, justified in order to allow repetitions or refutations.
Perhaps one would come to different relationships with a dif-
ferent form of measuring defense mechanisms. This should be
checked however empirically as well. The result that defense
mechanisms have a moderating effect on stress is according to
the hypothesis, that defenses, if they work, have an anxiety
reducing influence. The inclusion of respiratory parameters
adds also something to the validation of defense mechanisms,
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