7.33 Features of Relational Frames

Relational frames are types of arbitrarily applicable relational responding that have the features of mutual entailment, combinatorial entailment, and transformation of stimulus functions.

Mutual EntailmentRelations between stimuli are bidirectional. Responding to the relation in one direction (A to B) entails responding to the relation in the other direction (B to A).
Combinatorial EntailmentTwo or more stimulus relations can mutually combine. Responding to two combined relations (between A and B and between C and B) can entail a response to a third relation (between A and C).
Transformation of Stimulus FunctionsThe functions a stimulus has for a person can be transformed or changed on the basis of how it is related to other stimuli.

If you are familiar with the behavioral literature on stimulus equivalence, these terms or their descriptions may seem familiar to you. Mutual entailment appears similar to symmetry, combinatorial entailment appears similar to transitivity, and transformation of stimulus function appears similar to transfer for stimulus function. So why does RFT use different terms? 

 When dealing with frames of coordination (or equivalence relations), mutual entailment looks just like symmetry, combinatorial entailment looks just like transitivity, and stimulus functions can transfer between members of an equivalence class. But when dealing with relations other than equivalence/sameness, things can get a bit more complicated. Here is the explanation provided in the RFT book (2001):

“The terms used to describe the properties of a derived equivalence relation – reflexivity, symmetry, and transitivity – are not always appropriate or applicable for other kinds of relations. Take the relation of ‘larger than,’ for example. If A is larger than B, it does not follow that B is also larger than A – the relation is not symmetrical. Ordering relations (e.g., A is before B, B is before C, C is before D, etc.) also share this difficulty, as they are nonreflexive, asymmetrical, transitive, and connected (Green et al., 1993). To rectify this problem, RFT has adopted terminology that is more generic and applicable to all possible derived stimulus relations.” (p. 29)

“Changes in stimulus functions that occur when relations other than equivalence are involved make the term ‘transfer of stimulus functions’ too limited for generic use. The change in functions of one event that stands in relation to another is not mechanical: it is in terms of the underlying relation. For example, suppose a person is trained to select stimulus B as the ‘opposite’ of stimulus A. Now suppose that A is given a conditioned punishing function, such as by pairing it with a loss of points. It might be predicted that B would then have reinforcing functions (without having that function directly trained), by virtue of its ‘opposite’ relation to the punishing A stimulus. . . . It hardly seems right to say that the reinforcing effects ‘transferred’ in such a case, because they were acquired indirectly through the relation of opposition between B and a punisher. It seems more proper to use the term transformation than transfer…” (p. 32)


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