Past RFT installments:
- Relational Frame Theory Part I: An Introduction
- Relational Frame Theory Part II: Derived Learning
- Relational Frame Theory Part III: Derived Learning and Internal Experiences
- Relational Frame Theory Part IV: Transformation of Stimulus Functions
So far we have learned the following:
- When we learn unidirectional relationships (e.g., “Adam is younger than Gary”), then we are able to automatically derive or infer new ones without having to be taught them (e.g., “Therefore, Gary must be older than Adam”).
- The way we sense the outside world has a direct connection to internal experiences (perceptions, memories, thoughts, feelings, etc.) and vice versa. So when we see a needle/syringe in the environment, we think “that’s a needle,” and we may have certain fears or feelings or memories which occur when we see that needle in the environment.
- Further, when we simply think of a stimulus, our mind has the ability to create an internal reaction as though the stimulus is present. So if an individual with a phobia of needles simply thinks about needles, then his/her mind may initiate a cognitive/physiological cascade of events where he/she responds with nervousness, worry, panic-esque physiological symptoms, and even possible fainting; even though there is NO needle present, our mind “brings” the needle into the room where that individual is.
- Finally, the function of a stimulus can change directly (e.g., through classical conditioning, such as pairing an electric shock with a stimulus so it now produces fear when it previously produced a happy or neutral response), or indirectly (e.g., through derived learning, such as relating stimulus A to stimulus B, then pairing stimulus B with an electric shock so it elicits fear, then stimulus A will also elicit fear solely because it is related to stimulus B despite having never been paired with an electric shock).
Today we begin our discussion of rules, which we will have to cover in a few installments. Let me quick describe rules, and then I want you to see how they work for yourself. Rules are often conceived as “If, then” statements, where the consequence of the rule is specified in the statement itself, often rooted in something that is supposedly going to take place, rather than what is currently taking place. For example:
"If I don’t hurry, then I will miss the bus." - the individual isn’t necessarily missing the bus, but he/she states this rule, and it guides his/her behavior even though the consequence is not happening now and may not happen, well, at all.
So try some of your own. Don’t think about the answer to these, just let your mind produce an answer for you automatically. So I’ll give you the “if” portion of the rule by stating a situation, and leave the “then” portion blank. See what your mind tells you in response to these situations.
- If I don’t study tonight, then ___________.
- If I see smoke come from under the door, then ___________.
- If I see a bear while walking in the forest, then ___________.
- If the zombie apocalypse starts today, then ___________.
- If I am sent back to the year 1820, then ___________.
Did your mind come up with any answers?
Let’s consider some past rules we have seen thus far just in this little series. Remember this image from the last installment?
Consider the following possible rules:
- If I see “Chair,” then I will be shocked.
- If I see “Silla,” then I will be shocked.
- If I see “Stol,” then I will be shocked.
Note that one of these events did happen numerous times (saw the word “Chair,” received an electric shock). Yet the second two rules never happened and yet our minds give us the prediction they will happen. Our minds are foretelling events that have not happened, but “make sense” to our minds based on patterns of learning.
How about this one?
Maybe, “if I say Milk, then I will receive that beverage I enjoy.”
Why do rules matter?
Like many of the other things discussed thus far, they are very adaptive! We can force ourselves to study even if we find it quite dull (e.g., “If I don’t study, then I will fail this exam”). We can do lots of things based on the future promise of fulfillment or avoidance of pain. So these rules can guide our behavior in very adaptive ways.
However, they do have the potential to cause serious harm, and that is what we will discuss next time!