Relational Frame Theory (RFT)

Relational Frame Theory (RFT) is a psychological theory that proposes that language and higher order human cognition are developed by creating links between objects and concepts and by 'relating' things to one another. Developed by Steven Hayes and Dermot Barnes-Holmes, this theory is behaviorist and is based on early work in language acquisition by B.F. Skinner.

Instead of embracing an innate biological capacity for language (like the Language Acquisition Device developed by Noam Chomsky) this theory proposes that language and cognition are learned through interactions in the environment. Relational frames are formed and are used to infer relationships between objects and concepts that are based on earlier personal experiences and knowledge.

For example, a young child is initially taught what objects are in a very direct and well explained manner. ("This is chocolate. It is candy. It tastes yummy.") Eventually, a relational frame is built so that the child can infer information about objects based on their past experience. This relational frame allows to child to know when an unknown object is identified as candy that it is like chocolate, is edible, and will taste good. This example shows RFT at work in that the child is relating new objects and concepts to previously known things.

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