What is Relational Frame Theory?

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This blog aims to provide you information on relational frame theory. Relational frame theory is a modern analytic approach to language that tends to explain the link between human language and behavior.

The Skinnerian approach is the former outdated approach that was introduced before the relational frame theory. According to the relational Framework theory, relational framing is the process by which language is explained. It is a modern behavior analytic approach to human language. Let’s find out more about the relational frame theory in the next headings.

What is Relational Frame Theory?

The relational frame theory was put forward by Dr. Stephen Hayes. This theory was introduced with the purpose of combining a wide range of psychological phenomena into a coherent theory of language based on contextual relationships. According to relational frame theory, human cognition and communication recognized by an individual’s tendency for exploring and developing relational links between stimuli, and it is made possible by and individual’s “arbitrarily applicable relational responding” ability (Cullinan & Vitale, 2009).

Steven Hayes

Dr. Steven Hayes, the developer of relational frame theory, is a clinical psychologist and a professor of the University of Nevada’s behavior analysis program. He developed the relational frame theory with the purpose of explaining human cognition and language. He had studied B. F. Skinner, the psychologist, just like other students in his academic life. He cherished the work of B. F. Skinner in describing the behavior and considered it an opportunity to make an important contribution in the field of behaviorism. Behaviourism is a theory, based on language from the behaviorist perspective. 

Thus, Dr. Steven Hayes started working on developing the relational frame theory. Once he was done with this work, he expanded his contribution to a very significant goal which in his words is explained as follows:

“What we are seeking is the development of a coherent and progressive contextual behavioral science that is more adequate to the challenges of the human condition.” (Hayes, n.d.).

Dr. Steven Hayes continued saying that relational frame theory and related empirical evidence is aimed at developing:

“useful basic principles, workable applied theories linked to these principles, effective applied technologies based on these theories, and successful means of training and disseminating these developments…” (Hayes, n.d.).

Dr. Steven Hayes followed different pathways for working on his goal. One of these ways was to contribute his empirical skills and understanding to “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”. He applied the theories and findings of relational frame theory to cognitive and behavioral therapy. In this way, he created a very huge body of empirical evidence to prove how effective acceptance and commitment therapy techniques were.

Applications of Relational Frame Theory

The following are some applications of Dr. Steven Hayes’ relational frame theory.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Dr. Steven Hayes has been credited for introducing relational frame theory as well as acceptance and commitment theory, being an inspiration for one another. Nonetheless, the relationship between relational frame theory, as a basic science and acceptance and commitment therapy, as its application, is still being researched today.

Gender Constructs

Queer theorist along with an ACT therapist Alex Stitt how people’s relational frame within their language development explain their cognitive associations related to gender identity, gender role, and gender expression. According to Alex Stitt, the adaptation of the concept of gender and openness to gender diversity depends upon the stiffness or flexibility of an individual in his relational frames.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

The relational frame theory guides the concept and procedure on how to enhance cognitive language development tendency in young children suffering from Autism and related disorders.

Evolution Science 

Relational frame theory is also found to be a way of explaining the process of language with evolution science either within evolution biology or evolutionary psychology. This theory gives a more detailed understanding of the role of language in modifying the social behavior of human beings. Steven Hayes, the one who introduced relational frame theory, and David Sloan Wilson, evolutionary biologist, are the two people who contributed to applying relational frame theory into evolution science.

Recommended Books

The following is a list of some best books on relational frame theory. These books are a very good source of increasing knowledge about relational frame theory and learning applications of relational frame theory in our daily lives. Just click the book you wish to study and you will be redirected to the page from where you can access it.

What is relational frame ABA?

Relational frame theory is a kind of psychotherapy that is based on human language. The theory emphasizes that natural human language not just explain the strength of a link between stimuli but also specifies the kind of relationship as well as other mentioned along which they are to be related.

What is frame theory?

The frame theory is based on the notion that the media only pay attention to a certain event and then places them within a field of meaning. In simple words, the frame theory emphasizes how something is being presented to the audience affects the choices that people make about how to process that information.

What is derived relational responding?

Derived relational responding is referred to as a kind of seed through which a behavioral analysis of language and cognition may grow. Derived relational responding has a significant similarity to language phenomena such as bidirectionality anticipated between words and referents.

Who created the Relational Frame Theory?

The relational frame theory was created by Dr. Stephen Hayes who is recognized as a clinical psychologist and a professor of the University of Nevada’s behavioral analysis program. Dr. Stefan Hayes introduced the relational frame theory with the purpose of explaining human cognition and language.

What are the types of framing?

Framing could be light, heavy, and expedient. The three principal types of light framing include a western, balloon, and braced.

What does RFT Add to Sidman’s equivalence relations?

Stimulus equivalence is a research-based phenomenon and relational frame theory is about how this phenomenon comes about. The relational frame theory analyses and explains how people are able to form equivalence classes.

This brief blog explained in detail the relational frame theory to help you clarify your concept about this theory and the use of this theory. If you have any questions for queries regarding this blog, let us know through your comments. We will be glad to assist you in this regard.


What is Relational Frame Theory? A Psychologist Explains (+PDF) by Courtney E. Ackerman (2019)

Relational Frame Theory 101: An Introduction | NewHarbinger …

Relational frame theory – Wikipedia



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