Response funnel model conceptual and theoretical aspects

Article by Hans Holter Solhjell.

Published 30. September 2020.

This is part 2 of a series of articles about the response funnel.

Response funnel model conceptual and theoretical aspects

In this second article on the response funnel model, I provide an overview of the conceptual understanding the model is based on and compare it to some other related models in this field. 

Response Funnel

Several versions of the model exists and are also in development. The version currently available for download (Click here for English version ) and to buy in high-quality print (at this point, in Norwegian only) is the most basic one, which you can see in the image to the right.

Created for the practical context of relationships, parenting, developmental support, communication, and conflict resolution.


Hans Holter Solhjell presenting the response funnel model.

The response funnel was developed in the practical context of relationships, communication and conflict resolution, parenting, and developmental support. And to explain the concept of regulation-support and its importance for short-term conflict resolution, joint task completion, and long-term child development.

It is then used, together with the PLS regulation support model, to explain how, we, as responsible adults, can provide regulation-support in relationships with children.

It was also made to help adults see clearly where, on the behavior scale, both ourselves and the child are acting. And to explain how we as adults can act more in the green, social engagement field,  in a regulation-supportive manner, and support children’s development of those socio-emotional skills over time.

Additionally, it is highly useful for similar purposes in other contexts, like trauma therapy, in relationships, and conflict resolution in general. It can even be used to understand what is happening in organizations, politics, society, and culture.

The map/illustration is not the territory.

There are many ways of presenting and designing illustrations regarding the topics the response funnel, and indeed any topic, cover. Like a map of certain terrain, any illustration or theory will illuminate some aspects of the field it covers and hide others and are created based on a set of ideas, intentions, and principles that might be more or less conscious to the creator. 

Also, no one map can contain all information or serve all purposes. One map of the same area might be more precise, useful, or relevant for some purposes, and another map for other purposes. This is also the case for illustrations of ideas. There is no one best way of illustrating a concept that serves all purposes the best.

Using the response model visualization as an example, for some purposes, I prefer to use it with the green area on top. But for other purposes, I use it with the green SES field on the bottom, depending on what is suitable for the context, use with other models, etc. It can also be put in the vertical orientation. 

Other maps/illustrations of the same territory.

There are several other models that to some degree have influenced the development of the response funnel, and that illuminates different aspects of the same “territory” that the response funnel maps.

I will briefly mention here conflict escalation illustrations from conflict theory and conflict resolution, the window of tolerance model, and the polyvagal curve based on Stephen Porges Polyvagal theory. The purpose is to cite these models as sources for the development of the response funnel model and illustrate the differences in conceptualization and practical use from these models.

Conflict escalation curves

The conflict escalation curves typically use a curve to illustrate the escalation and de-escalation in conflicts and general descriptions of intensity and stages of a conflict. This is one example.

For the primary purpose of the Response funnel model, the idea of escalation and de-escalation is central, but a curve is not used. Rather, the emotional funnel metaphor, the colored levels, and the SES/F/F/F and the brains to the right as well as the list of behaviors/skills on the left side is used to illustrate the escalation and de-escalation. 

When used in combination with the PLS regulation support model (a phased conflict resolution model) a curve is also used, and the green SES field is placed at the bottom.

Window of tolerance

The response funnel model primarily maps one individual’s response options, possibilities, and limitations. It is also meant to support the capacity development of individuals, long term safeguarding of our capacity, as well as repair of capacity limitations due to injury or trauma.

It is important to point out that even with this individual oriented focus, the model is meant to be used in a context that emphasise the importance of context as well as our responsibility, on an individual as well as systemic level, towards each other. And does not see us as separate islands that can, in a healthy and sustainable way, fully separate and detach from others.
Importantly, the model was originally developed in a context of caretaker-child conflict, with the aim of explaining the importance of co-regulation and regulation-support for the developing child, and for the gradually developing self-regulation capacity of the child.

Also, the model, influenced by Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory and systems theory in general, sees our capacity as individuals, even though we can work to enhance and repair it, as greatly influenced by our immediate as well as long term contexts, in close relationships, wider social group, organisational, cultural, political and legal contexts. As well as our natural, local as well as global, natural environment.

Here is one good example, by Marie S. Dezelic.

Polyvagal curve

The various Polyvagal curve illustrations, based on the work of Stephen Porges, typically name the same symptoms of stress as the window of tolerance, but put more emphasis on describing the physiology related to stress and trauma, primarily related to the vagus nerve, and use an activation and deactivation curve, much similar to typical conflict theory curves. 

Source (

But rather than conflict intensity, escalation and de-escalation, the poly-vagal curve illustrates physiological activation, and the emphasis of the models is mostly on physiological factors. This is one example.

A map of subjectively observable behaviors, emotions, and learnable skills.

The focus or the aspect of the territory that is highlighted by the basic version of the response funnel is our outwardly and inwardly subjectively observable communicative, behavioral, and emotional responses, typically occurring in conflict and other challenging situations, and less on the underlying biological mechanisms. 

The main focus is on what is subjectively and intersubjectively observable, within our self as well as outwardly, using our regular senses, in ongoing real life situations. This can be compared to the other models where most of the factors described seem more meant to promote a general understanding of the topics.

Expanded versions of the model (coming soon) have a much broader focus, including a more comprehensive range of communicative, cognitive, and bodily actions. It also focuses on learnable attitudes, skills, and processes that support real-life mastery, not just self-regulation techniques in a more basic sense.

The model does not rely on any particular view of the brain or nervous system.

It is common for models illustrating topics related to stress and trauma to focus on physiology, the brain, the autonomic nervous system, etc.

While the image of the brains used in the model alludes to the importance of our biology, and the response funnel development also was inspired by biological models and obviously acknowledge that our physiology, brain, and nervous system is fundamentally important to our capacity for self-regulation, co-regulation, and regulation-support, and our response patterns, the model, for its intended purpose the model is not dependent on in-depth knowledge about physiology or the exactness of any particular point of view on how our brain or other parts of our biology functions.

There are also several competing theories on how the various parts of our physiology function and interact. For instance, there are several competing theories about how the brain and our nervous system work concerning our emotions and stress-related responses.

The brain theory often used in trauma-related methods, Paul Maclean’s triune brain model, is only one of several models and has faced criticism, and alternatives have been proposed. One example is constructionist theories of emotions, here exemplified by the research and theory of Lisa Feldman Barret, and her book “How emotions are made”. The response funnel model fits equally well, or possibly even better, with Barret’s constructionist theory.

The three main levels in the illustration, green, red, and blue, and the idea of the Social Engagement System, SES on top above fight/flight and freeze, were initially based on the polyvagal theory as well as Paul Maclean’s triune brain model. A basic understanding of these higher level, closer to subjective experience and observable behavior, aspects of these theories have a practical value from the perspective of conflict resolution and developmental support. The detailed understanding of biology is less useful, from a practical need perspective, in the context of conflict resolution, etc.

In the next part of this article series on the response funnel model more of the theories that influenced the development of the response funnel model will be presented.

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