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 #386
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

The Concept of Inhibition in the Analysis of Behavior

Monday, May 28, 2012
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
6BC (Convention Center)
Area: EAB; Domain: Theory
Instruction Level: Intermediate
CE Instructor: A. Charles Catania, Ph.D.
Chair: Robert W. Allan (Lafayette College)
A. CHARLES CATANIA (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
A. Charles Catania is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), and has served as Editor of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and as President of ABAI and of Division 25 of the APA. He has had the good fortune to sit (literally) in both Darwin's and Skinner's chairs, but in 1993 missed a chance to sit in Pavlov's chair during a visit to Pavlov's apartments in St. Petersburg, Russia. He began his career in behavior analysis at Columbia in fall 1954 in Fred Keller's Introductory Psychology course, which included a weekly rat laboratory, and later served as TA in Nat Schoenfeld's Experimental Psychology sequence. He earned his Ph.D. at Harvard and conducted postdoctoral work in Skinner's pigeon laboratory. He has examined behavior engendered and maintained by a variety of reinforcement schedules and has had an enduring interest in relations between nonverbal and verbal behavior. His research on inhibitory interactions among operant classes was inspired by analogous interactions in sensory systems, especially as demonstrated in research by Ratliff, Hartline and von Békésy. Over subsequent years, he has become increasingly impressed by striking parallels between accounts in terms of Darwinian natural selection and those in terms of the selection of behavior by its consequences. Taken together, these topics place behavior analysis solidly within the purview of the biological sciences.

In the early days of behavior analysis, extinction was seen not as failed maintenance following from discontinued reinforcement but as an active inhibition of responding. Pavlov had treated respondent extinction in inhibitory terms. In that tradition, extinguished operant behavior was viewed as "there all the time but inhibited." What was inhibited was clear enough but what did the inhibiting was inferred and unmeasurable. This way of talking persisted partly because phenomena like spontaneous recovery, often accompanying extinction, had not been adequately analyzed. Later, when extinguished responding in one component of a multiple schedule increased responding in the other unchanged component, the phenomenon, called behavioral contrast, was attributed to an excitatory side-effect of inhibited responding in extinction. Skinner criticized this concept of inhibition and this inhibitory interpretation. But a different variety of inhibition operates within sensory and other biological systems, as when increased neural firing produced by one photoreceptor reduces the firing of neighboring cells. Recasting schedule interactions as inhibitory effects of reinforcement rather than excitatory side-effects of extinction makes operant interactions analogous to receptor interactions within sensory systems. The language of inhibition and contrast remains appropriate but the direction of effect is inverted, and the interactions become consistent with similar ones in concurrent schedules, typically seen as reductions of one response by increased reinforcement of others. Experimental explorations of contrast and related effects illustrate the productivity of this approach but imply that behavioral contrast does not work as assumed when it is used to increase responding in applied settings.

Target Audience:


Learning Objectives: #none#
Keyword(s): extinction, Pavlov, Skinner



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