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 #363
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

Tacting, Describing, Naming and Explaining: The Interpretive Status of Behavior-Analytic Principles

Monday, May 28, 2012
2:00 PM–2:50 PM
6BC (Convention Center)
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Instruction Level: Advanced
CE Instructor: Philip N. Hineline, Ph.D.
Chair: Marleen T. Adema (Dutch Association for Behavior Analysis)
PHILIP N. HINELINE (Temple University)
With a B.A. from Hamilton College and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Philip N. Hineline spent three years at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research before moving to Temple University, where he progressed through the ranks and is now an active Professor Emeritus. With Saul Axelrod, he co-founded Temple's Interdisciplinary Master's Program in Applied Behavior Analysis. Experimenting over the years with behaviorally-based teaching methods, he devised the Interteach Format, which has been adopted and evaluated at several universities. He has served as Associate Editor, as Editor, and as Review Editor of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. He has been President of ABAI, of Division 25 of the American Psychological Association, of the Eastern Psychological Association, and of the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. He has received several awards for excellence in teaching, in research, and in service to the field. His conceptual writing has addressed the characteristics of explanatory language and the controversies that have confronted behavior analysis. His basic research has focused upon temporal extension in behavioral / psychological processes, with recent applied work evaluating behavioral interventions and addressing skill acquisition for persons who implement those interventions.

Skinner and other behavior analysts appear to have conceded that the conceptual system of behavior analysis is 'merely descriptive,' perhaps to evade the disputes that might arise from claiming explanatory status for our unconventional approach to psychological science. In contrast, I propose that our approach is at least as explanatory as any other. My basic premise is that all explanations are descriptions, but that not all descriptions are acceptable as explanations. Technically, the descriptions arise as tacts with adduction of additional functions that have been identified with naming. Then: What are the characteristics that result in a description being viewed as an explanation? First, it must be generic, a criterion that often is conflated with that of familiarity. Carefully construed, however, generality includes the important characteristic of parsimony. Second, separate (or basic) descriptive concepts must be interrelated to comprise a network that, along with generality, breaks the constraints of circularity. These characteristics are most commonly achieved through reductionistic strategies, while behavior analysis is best implemented through a multi-scaled approach, whereby the same principles can apply irrespective of the size of the behavioral unit.

Target Audience:

All who are interested in the nature of behavior-analytic theory and in its defense against alternative viewpoints. Academic Level: I shall try to supply something for beginners as well as advanced theorists: For example, beginners are likely to have been told in psychology lectures that the concept of reinforcement is circular and therefore trivial. I will document the point that most any scientific theory includes (indeed, is based upon) fundamental principles that are circularly defined. The reinforcement principle's circularity is not problematic, for that principle is interrelated in a network of additional concepts or principles. For the advanced theorist, we can dispense with determinism, and even with the conventional, almost moralistic defenses of parsimony (which have been successfully ignored by cognitivist theorists, at their ultimate peril), by adopting a conceptually clean exposition of behavior-analytic concepts, that is consistent with behavior-analytic terminology while still using mainly ordinary language.

Learning Objectives: Explain why the problem of trivial circularity does not apply to the principle of reinforcement Describe how is it that generic description satisfies the principle of parsimony Provide a non-behavioral example of a concept that gains its explanatory status mainly through familiarity and generality.



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