Functional contextualism is a scientific philosophy proposed by Steven Hayes and that it has developed fundamentally in the field of psychology, in particular in its behavioral aspect. In turn, it is closely related to the theory of relational frameworks and the therapy of acceptance and commitment, both the work of Hayes.
To understand the approaches of functional contextualism, it is important to become familiar with its more direct antecedents: pragmatist and contextualist philosophical traditions and radical behaviorism by Burrhus F. Skinner, one of the key figures in the history of behavioral guidance and scientific psychology in general.
Pragmatism, contextualism and radical behavioralism
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that dates back to the end of the 19th century and proposes that the best way to analyze and understand most facts is to focus on their functions, i.e. their effects, their consequences. or their results. Some of the classic theorists of this tradition are Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey.
For its part, the term “contextualism” was first used by Steven C. Pepper in 1942 to refer to the proposals of pragmatic philosophers. However, this author has emphasized to a greater extent the relevance of analyzing the acts in relation to the context in which they take place.
Pepper also said that people have “assumptions about the world” consisting of a series of interrelated approaches shared by other members of our cultural group. These perspectives determine different ways of understanding reality and defining truth, which for Pepper is all that involves effective action.
Finally, we must talk about Skinner’s radical behaviorism, a philosophy very close to his proposals around operant conditioning. Without denying the key influence of biology, Radical behaviorism focuses on the role of context in observable behavior and works with mental content in a manner equivalent to the rest of behavior.
Hayes’ functional contextualism
Steven C. Hayes is one of the most important psychologists today. Functional contextualism is the scientific philosophy underlying its two main contributions to the social sciences: relationship framework theory and acceptance and engagement therapy.
In a nutshell, Hayes and other functional contextualists argue for the relevance of focusing on the precise and profound manipulation of variables that can be altered when predicting or changing a person’s behaviors and mental content in the process. a given context.
Unlike the descriptive variant of contextualism, associated with constructionism, narrativismo or hermeneutics, functional contextualism attempts formulate general laws by the empirical or inductive methodThat is, studying observable phenomena to define rules and see to what extent they can be extrapolated to other facts.
In recent years, the application of functional contextualism has become popular as a philosophical basis for applied behavioral analysis. This psychological discipline, which draws on research on operant conditioning, studies the relationships between behavior and the environmental variables that may be relevant to it.
Thus, functional contextualism seeks to understand the (verbal) laws that govern behavior through the use of inductive methods in order to modify maladaptive behaviors. for that contingency manipulation is mainly usedThat is, the relationships between a behavior and the emergence of reinforcers.
Other contributions from Hayes
Hayes explains the development of language, and therefore cognition, through his theory of relational frameworks. According to this author, people acquire these functions by forming mental connections between two or more aspects of reality, which occurs early in life and leads to an increasing accumulation of relationships.
These relational frameworks do not depend solely on learning by associationBut also include information about the characteristics of the relationship. So, as children, we make connections between objects such as plates, forks and spoons because we interact with them simultaneously but also because they perform similar functions.
The mental associations we make become progressively more complex and explain the internalization of norms of behavior, the formation of a sense of identity and many other verbal phenomena. Rigidity or impracticability of relational frameworks are very common causes of psychopathology, for example in cases of depression and anxiety.
Hayes developed acceptance and engagement therapy as an intervention for this type of emotional disorder. This third generation therapy is based on the confrontation and naturalization of negative emotions and the promotion of value-oriented activity independent of life difficulties, such as psychological distress itself.
- Hayes, SC (1993). Analytical objectives and varieties of scientific contextualism. In SC Hayes, LJ Hayes, HW Reese and TR Sarbin (Eds.), Varieties of Scientific Contextualism (pp. 11-27). Reno, Nevada: Background Press.
- Hayes, SC; Strosahl, K. and Wilson, KG (1999). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change. New York: Guilford Press.
- Hayes, SC; Barnes-Holmes, D. and Roche, B. (eds.). (2001). Relational Framework Theory: A Post-Skinnerian Account of Human Language and Cognition. New York: Plenum Press.