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The Status of Rule-Governed Behavior as Pliance, Tracking and Augmenting within Relational Frame Theory: Middle-Level Rather than Technical Terms

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Abstract

A recent systematic review has highlighted that the terms “pliance,” “tracking,” and “augmenting” have rarely been used as the basis for conducting systematic experimental-analytic research since their conception in 1982, despite their theoretical centrality to the study of rule-governed behavior and their presumed impact on psychological suffering. Given that some time has passed since the review article, it may be useful to reflect again upon their place within the literature on the experimental analysis of human behavior, and relational frame theory in particular. As such, the current article constitutes a “position piece” rather than another formal systematic review. In reviewing (informally) the literature since the systematic review, the recent emergence of psychometric research involving these concepts could be seen as reinforcing the original conclusions, in that researchers are recognizing that pliance, tracking, and augmenting may be of limited value in the experimental analysis of human behavior. Instead, the concept of rule-governed behavior itself, as well as the subcategories of pliance, tracking, and augmenting, should be considered middle-level terms, which lack the relative precision of more technical terms within the literature on relational frame theory.

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Notes

  1. We would also note that other articles have been published since our informal review of the literature (in April 2020) that could be seen as broadly relevant (e.g., Ghezzi, Houmanfar, & Crosswell, 2020; Ruíz et al., 2020). However, the general argument we are advancing in the current “position” article, that rule-governed behavior, and thus pliance, tracking, and augmenting, are best considered middle-level terms, are not fundamentally challenged by the publication of these additional articles.

  2. It is also worth noting that some of the leading researchers who have argued for the value of middle-level terms in behavioral psychology have recently questioned the use of traditional psychometry itself in favor of idiographic, process-based research (Hayes et al., 2019). Thus, the use of nomothetic psychometrics in support of the concepts of pliance, tracking and augmenting could be challenged further in the newly emerging idiographic, process-focused era.

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Harte, C., Barnes-Holmes, D. The Status of Rule-Governed Behavior as Pliance, Tracking and Augmenting within Relational Frame Theory: Middle-Level Rather than Technical Terms. Psychol Rec 72, 145–158 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40732-021-00458-x

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Keywords

  • pliance
  • tracking
  • augmenting
  • rule-governed behavior
  • RFT/ACT