Assessing Perspective Taking in Schizophrenia Using Relational Frame Theory

By Villatte, Matthieu; Monestes, Jean-Louis et al. | The Psychological Record, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Assessing Perspective Taking in Schizophrenia Using Relational Frame Theory


Villatte, Matthieu, Monestes, Jean-Louis, McHugh, Louise, Baque, Esteve Freixa I., Loas, Gwenole, The Psychological Record


Over the past three decades, perspective taking has constituted one of the main topics of research in psychology due to the likely involvement of such ability in social cognition. Undeniably, this field has been dominated by the cognitive approach, which has produced models as numerous as they are contradictory. Indeed, while a consensus exists regarding the developmental stages of perspective taking (Howlin, Baron-Cohen, & Hadwin, 1999), controversy still remains over the question of its functioning in typical individuals as well as people suffering from pathologies linked to impairments in social cognition (e.g., autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia). On the other hand, only a few behavior analysts have offered a functional account of such questions (see Spradlin & Brady, 2008). Although it might be argued that the aim of behavior analysis is not necessarily to propose an account for concepts constructed into cognitive approaches, researchers working under the rubric of relational frame theory (RFT) have claimed that complex verbal activities, such as social cognition, have long been neglected because little was known about certain crucial behavioral processes involved in these types of activities (see Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001).

At the core of RFT lies the principle that verbal behavior is a specific class of generalized operant that corresponds to the ability to respond to a stimulus in relation to another stimulus on the basis of properties defined by social community, that is, arbitrarily applicable relational responding (AARR). For instance, if an individual picks a soccer ball when asked to choose the biggest object among a range of different sports balls (such as a tennis ball and a golf ball), the behavior is based on nonarbitrary properties of the stimuli. (The fact that the golf ball is smaller than the tennis ball is not established by social community, and this relation of comparison cannot be transformed by means of verbal behavior.) On the contrary, if the same individual is asked to select the ball that is used in a team sport, he or she will pick the soccer ball once again, but this time according to arbitrary properties of the stimuli. (In this context, the soccer ball and the two other balls are compared according to the kind of sport in which they are employed, team sport as opposed to individual sport, which is established by the social community.)

Studies conducted under the rubric of RFT have shown that derived learning processes demonstrated in nonarbitrary relations (see Sidman, 1994) apply to AARR. That is, directly training the individual from our previous example to relate two stimuli (e.g., by explaining that a basketball is the same as a soccer ball in terms of their use in team sports) means that the individual may then respond to the soccer ball in relation to the basketball (a soccer ball is the same as a basketball) and in relation to the tennis ball (a basketball is the opposite of a tennis ball) without having been trained directly to do so. This individual is said to "derive" his or her relational responses: He or she produces responses that have not been trained directly. According to RFT, these limited but powerful mechanisms of derivation allow humans to learn and establish relations between stimuli or relations in infinite ways, thus accounting for complex verbal activities such as storytelling or understanding of metaphors and analogies (Barnes-Holmes & Barnes-Holmes, 2002; Stewart, Barnes-Holmes, Hayes, & Lipkens, 2001).

In addition to relational responding of coordination and opposition, a variety of other forms of relational responding have given rise to a functional analysis (Hayes, Fox, et al., 2001). These include relational responding of distinction (Roche & Barnes, 1996), comparison (e.g., more than, less than; see, e.g., Dymond & Barnes, 1995; O'Hora, Roche, Barnes-Holmes, & Smeets, 2002), hierarchy (Griffee & Dougher, 2002), analogy (Barnes, Hegarty, & Smeets, 1997; Lipkens & Hayes, 2009; Stewart, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2004), temporality (O'Hora et al. …

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