Advantages of RFT

Printer-friendly version

Advantages of the RFT Approach to Human Language and Cognition

There are many different theories—in many different disciplines—that attempt to explain or account for human language and cognition. With so many different theories available, what is unique or special about Relational Frame Theory?

We believe the functional, contextualistic approach of RFT to understanding complex human behavior has led to a system of analysis that offers many advantages over the traditional structural and “information transmission” models of language and cognition (Blackledge, 2003). These advantages include:

  • RFT is parsimonious, relying on relatively few basic principles and concepts to account for language and cognition.
  • RFT is precise, allowing the study of human language to be conducted in accordance with the carefully-specified definitions of its component processes.
  • RFT has broad scope, providing plausible explanations and new empirical approaches to a wide variety of complex human behaviors in both basic and applied domains (such as problem solving, metaphors, self, spirituality, values,rule-governed behavior, psychopathology, etc.).
  • RFT has depth, meaning that its analyses cohere with established treatments at other levels of analysis. For example, it provides plausible accounts of cultural phenomena such as knowledge amplification; recent neurological research indicates that the brain processes seen while subjects engage in derived relational responding fit with the RFT language claim; and connectionist models of the learning history needed to establish relational frames coheres with RFT.
  • The principles of RFT are directly observable, especially under laboratory conditions, so no tenuous inferences about the existence of unseen structures or processes (such as cognitive schemas or language acquisition devices) are required.
  • RFT is firmly based on empirical research that has without exception supported its tenets. In addition to the over 30 published empirical treatments of RFT, the theory also accounts for the data observed in hundreds of empirical studies on the concept of stimulus equivalence that have been published since 1971. RFT has withstood all empirical tests so far, and all of its core claims now have at least some supportive data. So far, no data has arisen in contradiction to the theory.
  • RFT has direct applied and clinical applications that are not apparent in other accounts of human language and cognition. There are nearly 30 successful empirical studies on applied methods based on RFT (particularly Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, but including other methods as well, such as methods of attitude change, or the treatment of stigma and prejudice) and many clear applied implications yet to be pursued.
  • RFT is generative. The account leads quickly to innovative and (so far) empirically successful approaches to virtually all of the important topics in the language and cognition domain.
  • RFT is testable. Its core claim (that relating can be thought of as learned, operant behavior) is an empirical matter. If relational frames do not develop, come under contextual control, respond to shaping via multiple exemplar training, and respond to consequences, then the theory is false. Further, its claim that relational frames are the core of human language is testable both directly and pragmatically. For example, if RFT does not lead to more successful education interventions than those that currently exist, then it fails. (see section on research evidence).
  • RFT is progressive. RFT supports what is within the "protective belt" of the behavioral paradigm and yet is generative in the sense described above (see Lakatos for this approach to progressivity). RFT is a behavioral theory that builds on everything that is known about basic behavioral principles, but takes this basic account into a fundamentally new direction with profound and exciting implications for almost every topic relating to complex human behavior. Yet it does so without any patchwork corrections to the basic assumptions of the behavioral paradigm.
  • RFT is coherent. Its philosophical basis is well articulated; its assumptions are clearly stated; its concepts are carefully defined; and all of these levels fit together.