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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Paper Session #408
Historical Investigations
Monday, May 28, 2012
3:30 PM–4:50 PM
605 (Convention Center)
Area: TPC
Chair: Edward K. Morris (University of Kansas)

The Consequences of the Human Origins of B. F. Skinner's Theory of the Operant

Domain: Theory
KRISTJAN GUDMUNDSSON (Reykjavik College of Women)

In Oslo, Norway in 2009 (one paper: The Surprising Origins of Skinners Theory) and in Denver, Colorado (two papers: The Experimental Origins of Skinners Theory - and The Human Origins of Skinners Theory) I argued that the origins of B. F. Skinners theory of the operant originated not in animal research, but in an obscure paper from 1934-6. That paper is based on an experiment on humans. I showed further that Skinner himself underestimated this paper, not reproducing it in his collection of papers, Cumulative Record. I got Skinner to admit to this in an interview in 1983, that in fact Skinners very first research on operant behavior is an experment on humans. This changes everything. We can no longer say that Skinners theory is dubious as it is an extrapolation of basic animal research to the very complicated field of human (verbal) behavior, but exactly the other way around. In this paper I will address the consequences of this fact and examine the nature of the unit that Skinner proposes for his theory - the operant. I will further examine how basic textbooks of psychology all represent Skinners theory incorrectly, and furthermore show that even though Skinner very early seems to have abandoned literature, he had in fact all along, two research traditions going on at the same time, basic animal research, and a literary one based analysis on human verbal behavior. It is only when these come together - sometime around 1934 - (not in 1957, when Verbal Behavior is finally published) that his basic theory of the operant comes to be. So we see that Skinner does not reject his literary background, as is generally assumed, but that in fact his unique theory of radical behaviorism would not have developed as it did, if he had not approached the field of behaviorism in psychology from this strange and unscientific base of literature. The final consequence of all this is that this basic unit a of analysis - the operant - is applicable to all behavior of all organisms just because it is originally suggested by an analysis of human verbal behavior.


Why I Am Not a Rationalist: Parallels B

etween Hume's Empiricism and Radical Behaviorism

Domain: Theory
ANDREW ERNEST NUZZOLILLI (Eastern Connecticut State University), James W. Diller (Eastern Connecticut State University)

The analysis of similarities between philosophical systems allows for conceptual development of the systems in question. David Hume was a Scottish philosopher credited with the initial development of the underpinnings of modern philosophy of science across disciplines and his inductive logic is still broadly influential in science today. Although he has not previously been emphasized as an influence on B. F. Skinner, the ideas initially advanced by David Hume were subsequently developed in Skinner's writings. This paper analyzes similarities between the philosophical systems of Hume and Skinner, focusing on their conceptualization of causality and their approach to the scientific method. Intellectual antecedents leading up to the work of these thinkers and possible consequences of following their philosophical systems are discussed. Tracing radical behaviorism's antecedents from the empiricist movement of the early modern period and the successive approximations of proto-behaviorist ideas allows for additional conceptual clarity when examining radical behaviorism and its position amongst other worldviews.

Crozier's Relationship to Loeb: Literal, Figurative, Rhetorical
Domain: Theory
EDWARD K. MORRIS (University of Kansas)
Abstract: William J. Crozier was Jacques Loeb’s colleague in early twentieth-century American behavioral biology. However their student-to-teacher relationship has been subject to conflicting claims, which I resolve. First, after describing the claims and other works, I conclude that Crozier was only figuratively Loeb’s student. Second, after addressing the source of the misportrayals, I conclude that B. F. Skinner was their source. Although he revised his claim, the misportrayals continued. I consider the reasons why. Third, after analyzing the nature of historiographic error, I conclude that the misportrayal was more technical than substantive, more slight than constructed, and more trivial than grievous. Nevertheless, the term student has rhetorical command beyond mere description. It suggests that students’ standpoints are their teachers’ standpoints, when they may differ significantly. I illustrated this by describing Loeb’s, Crozier’s, and Skinner’s contributions to science.



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