The Psychological Record

, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 83–98

Basic Properties of Coherence: Testing a Core Assumption of Relational Frame Theory

  • Michael J. Bordieri
  • Karen Kate Kellum
  • Kelly G. Wilson
  • Kerry C. Whiteman
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s40732-015-0154-z

Cite this article as:
Bordieri, M.J., Kellum, K.K., Wilson, K.G. et al. Psychol Rec (2016) 66: 83. doi:10.1007/s40732-015-0154-z



Relational frame theory contains a foundational assumption that coherence (i.e., making sense) is reinforcing for verbally competent humans. That is, it is assumed that humans relate ambiguous stimuli together because they have an extensive learning history where doing so resulted in both effective environmental action and socially mediated reinforcement (e.g., praise, positive attention).


This investigation tested this core assumption of relational frame theory by analyzing response patterns to ambiguous stimuli in a matching-to-sample task (Study 1) and by assessing whether participants displayed a preference toward coherent contexts in a concurrent chains preparation (Study 2).


The majority of participants responded to ambiguous stimuli in ways that were internally consistent and congruent with their previous learning histories in the absence of any programmed contingencies. Many participants also displayed a preference toward contexts where coherent responding was possible, and there was a trend toward switching away in preference when it became increasingly costly to access the coherent context.


The major theoretical contributions of these findings are discussed.


Relational frame theory Derived stimulus relations Matching to sample Concurrent chains Rule-governed behavior 

Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Bordieri
    • 1
  • Karen Kate Kellum
    • 2
  • Kelly G. Wilson
    • 3
  • Kerry C. Whiteman
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMurray State UniversityMurrayUSA
  2. 2.Institutional Research, Effectiveness, & Planning and Department of PsychologyUniversity of MississippiUniversityUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MississippiUniversityUSA

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