Is Psychological Flexibility and different than self-esteem, neuroticism, etc

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The following was an elegant answer on the ACT list serve to a question in September 2016 about why psychological flexibility is an different than scores of similar concepts.

I think Frank nailed it

- S

Steven C. Hayes


The question of ‘how is psychological flexibility different from___?’ is a common and understandable one. Indeed, parsimony holds that we should not idly create new psychological constructs in our spare time, in order to further our studies or careers (but perhaps this is where I’ve gone wrong). That said, psychological flexibility (PF) is not new: it has been discussed in mainstream publications for 20 years and in more specialised ones before that; indeed, the term ‘acceptance’ has been the ‘A’ in ACT for nearly 28-30 years. On a scientific note, it is, of course, an empirical question as to whether or not PF predicts outcomes of interest (e.g., well-being, depression, productivity) better than an older construct that ‘seems like’ PF. Showing that it does is useful and worth investigating. Moreover, showing that PF predicts an outcome, whilst controlling for another similar variable is even more interesting, so I would suggest doing that in your work. Perhaps most importantly, in some regards, I think that it is useful to recall that contextual behavioural science seeks to identify variables that one can predict and influence. We know through a sufficient number of outcome studies that we can influence PF: this is why we measure it; this is why we use it in methodologies and analyse it with inferential statistics that individual difference enthusiasts normally claim as their methods of expertise. We do not really know how to use a small set of techniques to enhance self-esteem, self-efficacy, resilience, or reduce neuroticism. All of these variables may predict important outcomes, but, as far as I know, we cannot point to full-scale interventions, never mind a few techniques, that can reliably change them; and, even if we could, we have insufficient evidence that they actually mediate change in a psychological intervention. With PF, however, we have such evidence: this is why we wish to study it, because we can improve it. I have found that pointing this out (respectfully, of course) is useful.

Professor Frank W. Bond, PhD
Director, Institute of Management Studies
Goldsmiths, University of London