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Scientific progressivity: Choosing a path

Contextual Behavioral Science (CBS) is the research paradigm underlying the development of ACT and RFT. It is a coherent, multi-leveled system of philosophical assumptions, scientific values, and methodological commitments that drive theory and technology development. It reflects an appreciation for our place in the history of science and specifies standards against which progress is assessed. What becomes clear from the history of science is that there is no such thing as The Scientific Method and no one measure of scientific progress. In such a context it is essential to take ownership of the foundations of your work.

Science is a relatively recent development in our evolutionary history, and for much of it methodology was guided by sets of assumptions that would now seem absurd to us. Up until the mid to late 17th century, for example, scientists in the Western world were committed to maintaining theories that placed the Earth at the center of the universe (Kuhn, 1957). Amazingly such systems enjoyed a great deal of success. Perhaps scientists of the future will look back upon 21st century science and see our work as similarly absurd and inexplicably successful. Studying the history of science can indeed be rather humbling. Were not those early 17th century scientists just as certain about their methods as we are about ours?

A healthy skepticism about science does not entail that no measure of progress is possible (Laudan, 1977). Instead it leads us to recognize that we must choose a measure of progress. We must choose a scientific tradition to work within. And we must take ownership of these choices as the world will not tell us which path to follow. CBS is one such path, complete with its own values and measures of progress. Papers have been published that explicate this system, for example: 

Hayes, S. C., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Wilson, K. G. (2012). Contextual behavioral science: Creating a science more adequate to the challenge of the human condition. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 1(1), 1-16.

A book-length introduction can be found here:

Zettle, R. D., Hayes, S. C., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Biglan, A. (Eds.) (2016). The Wiley Handbook of Contextual Behavioral Science. West Sussex, UK: Wiley & Sons.

For a basic introduction, it is useful to understand the following points (click each one for more information). 


- Is based on a pragmatic worldview known as functional contextualism.

- Grows from behavior analysis in its methodology and assumptions.

- Is committed to developing basic behavioral accounts of complex behaviors.

- Aims to apply these advances in the alleviation human suffering and the advancement of human well-being.

Click here for a list of general purpose books on CBS

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