Insight Conference
Dr. rer. nat. Max Wolff
10:00am - 10:30am
Room: Auditorium


A Simple Conceptual Model of How Psychedelics Affect Psychological Flexibility (for Better or Worse)

Many benefits and some of the harms associated with psychedelic use are arguably due to these drugs’ acceptance- and avoidance-promoting effects as well as corresponding longer-term changes in psychological flexibility. So far, the psychological mechanisms underlying these outcomes are insufficiently understood. In this talk I will present a psychological model that aims to explain how psychedelics promote not only acceptance but also –unfavorable conditions provided– experiential avoidance. The core constructs in this model are two complementary facets of the psychedelic experience that are characterized by specific behavioral, motivational, and cognitive features: The acceptance-related experience (ACE) is characterized by accepting responses towards aversive emotions, operant conditioning processes of “learning to let go”, and acceptance-promoting insights. In contrast, the avoidance-related experience (AVE) features avoidant responses, distressful states of perceived lack of control, and avoidance-promoting insights. The model´s four overarching assumptions are complementarity (ACE and AVE may occur alternatingly but not simultaneously, and are therefore empirically independent), intertwinedness (behavioral, motivational, and cognitive sub-aspects of ACE and AVE are mutually contingent and therefore strongly inter-correlated), context-dependence (ACE and AVE depend critically on context factors, i.e. “set and setting”), and interaction (longer-term impacts on psychological flexibility depend on the interplay between ACE and AVE). To measure the proposed constructs and test the model, a theory-based self-report scale was developed: the Acceptance/Avoidance-Promoting Experiences Questionnaire (APEQ). The APEQ was validated in a large bilingual online survey including 997 English- and 836 German-speaking participants, each of whom reported on one self-selected psychedelic experience (occasioned by LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, or ayahuasca). Results were generally in line with the assumptions of complementarity, intertwinedness, context-dependence, and interaction, indicating that the APEQ and its underlying theory can help improve the understanding of psychedelic-induced benefits and harms.


Clinical Psychologist & Research and Knowledge Exchange Associate

Dr. rer. nat. Max Wolff

MIND Foundation
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