Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


38th Annual Convention; Seattle, WA; 2012

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #344
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

Linking Psychological Constructs to Behavioral Performance Using Generative Models

Monday, May 28, 2012
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
6BC (Convention Center)
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Instruction Level: Intermediate
CE Instructor: Federico Sanabria, Ph.D.
Chair: Matthew C. Bell (Santa Clara University)
FEDERICO SANABRIA (Arizona State University)
Dr. Sanabria is an Assistant Professor of psychology at Arizona State University and principal investigator at the Basic Behavioral Processes laboratory. He is also affiliated to the neuroscience program in Arizona State University. Dr. Sanabria received his professional degree in psychology from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá (Colombia), where he spent a few years as marketing research analyst. He received his doctoral degree in experimental psychology in 2004 from Stony Brook University, where he worked on self-control under the guidance of Dr. Howard Rachlin. He was a postdoctoral research associate under the supervision of Dr. Peter Killeen (2004-2008) and Dr. Janet Neisewander (2008) in Arizona State University. He has published over 30 peer-reviewed publications in journals such as the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Behavioural Brain Research, and Psychopharmacology. His research is primarily concerned with the development and evaluation of quantitative models that specify the role of basic behavioral processes (learning, timing, choice, and regulation) in psychiatric disorders (mainly, substance abuse and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). The National Institute on Drug Abuse currently funds Dr. Sanabria's research.

Behaviorists often eschew explanations of performance (response rates and locations) that are based on psychological constructs (learning, preference, memory, impulsivity, etc.), for such constructs often lead to dualisms, homunculi, and pseudoexplanations. Their primary interest is in explaining behavior. For many others, however, this diet is too lean. Neuroscientists, for instance, often invoke psychological constructs to interpret performance. Their primary interest is psychological constructs, not behavior. Can there be a principled integration of these approaches? The conventional solution is to operationalize constructs (e.g., define preference as proportion of choices, memory as percent successes), but this often results in arbitrary and misleading indices that constrain commensurability to "procedure fetishism." An alternative solution, advanced in this talk, consists of identifying constructs with hidden parameters, states, and processes defined with quantitative precision in generative models. These models specify random processes that generate instances of performance, thus providing the basis for explaining performance from psychological constructs, and for reverse engineering the principles that govern behavior. Basic psychological research, according to this approach, should focus on developing and testing generative models, and on estimating the sensitivity of model parameters to relevant manipulations. Empirical research on memory, learning, and impulsivity in animal models illustrate these ideas.

Target Audience:


Learning Objectives: _
Keyword(s): behavior models, psychological constructs



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