Oh G-d, A Borderline: Clinical Diagnostics As Fundamental Attribution Error Page: 1
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Once you label me, you negate me
- Soren Kierkegaard
John Watson famously touted that he could make a healthy child into any sort of
professional he desired, given that he had exclusive control over the child's environment. Over
the decades, many protested this claim, fearing its deterministic quality. Nevertheless, that child
could be shaped into anything and therein lies ultimate freedom; it is only that agency rests not in
the child, but in her context. Watson's claim, an oft cited exemplar of behaviorism's supposed
coldness to humanism, in fact, suggests the near limitlessness of human possibility.
As Kierkegaard's quote suggests, at least in part, our labeling truly negates the
possibilities of humanness; our "this is for that" and "that does this" mentality quickly limits an
object its dictionary definition, rather than describing its broad array of properties and functions.
For example, a chair is defined as "a seat typically having four legs and a back for one person"
(Merriam-Webster online) at the expense of its ability to be used as a device upon which
stepping makes items at greater heights more accessible, a source of fuel, or as a weapon. A
chair, in and of itself, has no properties which require that it always exist as Webster's definition
suggests it should. Rather, like the hypothesized child of Watson's claim, the chair's truer
definition is dynamic, its boundaries blurry.
One scientifically founded explanation for how "chair" comes to be rigidly related to as a
seat is given by relational frame theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001), but the
idea that this process occurs has been a point of consideration for thousands of years. The Taoist
sage Chuang Tzu pointed to the human tendency to restrict the value of things to a set of
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Schmalz, Jonathan. Oh G-d, A Borderline: Clinical Diagnostics As Fundamental Attribution Error, thesis, December 2011; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc103389/m1/7/: accessed April 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .