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Relational frame theory, or RFT, is a psychological theory of human language and cognition, developed and tested largely through the efforts of Steven C. Hayes and Dermot Barnes-Holmes. Based on the philosophical roots of functional contextualism, it focuses on how humans learn language through interactions with the environment. Functional contextualism is an extension of B.F. Skinner's radical behaviorism, and tries to predict and influence psychological events, such as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, by focusing on manipulable variables in their context.

RFT can be said to be the revival of the behavioristic approach to language, that B.F. Skinner proposed in Verbal Behavior. In a review of this book, linguist Noam Chomsky argued that the generativity of language shows that it can not simply be learned, that there must be some innate "language acquisition device". Many have seen this review as a turning point, when cognitivism took the place of behaviorism as the mainstream in psychology.

RFT distinguishes itself from Skinner's work by identifying and defining a particular type of operant conditioning known as derived relational responding. This is a learning process that to date appears to occur only in humans possessing a capacity for language. Derived relational responding is theorized to be a pervasive influence on almost all aspects of human behavior. The theory represents an attempt to provide a more empirically progressive account of complex human behavior while preserving the naturalistic approach of behavior analysis.

Application[edit | edit source]

Relational Frame Theory underlies the therapeutic practice known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Hayes, S. C., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Roche, B. (Eds.). (2001). Relational Frame Theory: A Post-Skinnerian account of human language and cognition. New York: Plenum Press. ISBN 0306466007

External links[edit | edit source]

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