The discussion begins with an introduction from each of the speakers about the core of their work. Dr. Deacon emphasizes how his work had evolved over the years with a greater focus on why language has commonalities, expanding that discussion beyond mere issues of nature and nurture into the requirements of language itself. He argues that “We can only communicate symbolically with certain kinds of combinatorial constraints that come from the problem of maintaining reference” and it is that which leads to universal features of grammar and syntax.

The RFT team (largely voiced by Dr. Dermot Barnes-Holmes) then delves into stimulus equivalence and how it opened up the phenomenon of symbolic relations for behavior analysts. Across decades of research, it has become clear that non-human animals are unable to convincingly demonstrate their features while it is quite easy for neurotypical humans. Dr. Barnes-Holmes describes an evolutionarily plausible reason that might be.

He also notes that part of the difference between the positions is that RFT is built out of an attempt to build a theory in human language and cognition which has direct and immediate applied implications.

That leads to an extended discussion of what each approach expects of itself in terms of data – consistency with neurobiological data; ability to apply the analysis; and what each side can learn from each other. The discussion notes areas of contact but also areas of disconnection based both on analytic purposes and the conceptual and empirical traditions represented.

Published On: December 22, 2020

Steven C. Hayes

Steven C. Hayes

Steven C. Hayes is Nevada Foundation Professor in the Behavior Analysis program at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. An author of 46 books and over 650 scientific articles, his career has focused on an analysis of the nature of human language and cognition and the application of this to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering. He is the developer of Relational Frame Theory, an account of human higher cognition, and has guided its extension to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a popular evidence-based form of psychotherapy that uses mindfulness, acceptance, and values-based methods. Dr. Hayes has been President of several scientific societies including Division 25 of the APA, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. He was the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Association for Psychological Science, which he helped form and has served a 5-year term on the National Advisory Council for Drug Abuse in the National Institutes of Health. In 1992 he was listed by the Institute for Scientific Information as the 30th “highest impact” psychologist in the world and Google Scholar data ranks him among the top ~1,100 most cited scholars in all areas of study, living and dead ( Dr. Hayes is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in addition to several other scientific societies. His work has been recognized by several awards including the Exemplary Contributions to Basic Behavioral Research and Its Applications from Division 25 of APA, the Impact of Science on Application award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy. 

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