Relational Coherence and Persistent Rule-Following: The Impact of Targeting Coherence in a ‘Non-Critical’ Component of a Relational Network

Ragnar Bern, Tone Persdotter, Colin Harte, Dermot Barnes-holmes

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8 Citations (Scopus)
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Rule-governed behavior has long been associated with generating insensitivity to direct contingencies of reinforcement. This insensitivity to environmental changes has also been implicated in human psychological suffering. Recent developments within Relational Frame Theory (RFT) have highlighted the importance of analyzing the dynamics of arbitrarily applicable relational responding (AARR) with regard to the impact of rules on human behavior. Although previous research has focused on the impact of levels of derivation and coherence at the level of the relational frame, no published research to date has investigated the impact of coherence at the level of the relational network on rule persistence. Participants were first trained on a novel relational network that was either maximally coherent or partially incoherent before being exposed to a contingency switching matching-to-sample (MTS) task. The current research aimed to investigate the impact of challenging the coherence of an aspect of the network that was not necessarily important for deriving the rule for responding on the MTS task. Results showed that coherence significantly affected upon levels of rule resurgence, but no other measure of rule persistence. Correlational analyses indicated that manipulating coherence per se versus a control condition had a significant impact on specific self-report measures such as level of certainty. A post-hoc RFT interpretation of the findings is provided.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalThe Psychological Record
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 8 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article was prepared with the support of an Odysseus Group 1 grant awarded to the fourth author by the Flanders Science Foundation (FWO).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Association for Behavior Analysis International.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Rule-governed behavior
  • RFT
  • Coherence
  • Persistent rule-following


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