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.


33rd Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2007

Event Details

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Symposium #253
CE Offered: BACB
Illuminating the Present in Light of the Past
Sunday, May 27, 2007
3:00 PM–4:20 PM
Randle B
Area: TPC/TBA; Domain: Theory
Chair: Gail B. Peterson (University of Minnesota)
Discussant: Gail B. Peterson (University of Minnesota)
CE Instructor: Edward K. Morris, Ph.D.

The theme of this symposium is that our appreciation of even the most well-established and widely-known facts and doctrines of a science is often meaningfully enhanced and enriched when obscure historical details are placed in modern context. Three presentations giving specific examples of this for behavior analysis are followed by a discussion that expands upon that general theme. John Malone provides a biographical portrait of E. B. Delabarre, who contributed substantively to James' Principles of Psychology, worked with Munsterberg and Thorndike, supplied a son to assist Skinner, and founded the psychological laboratory at Brown. Ed Morris describes the origin and fate of third variables, a notion Skinner developed in his earliest writings, but subsequently dropped, that relates to the modern concept of establishing operations and has implications for how Skinner's systematic position has been perceived and understood by psychology at large. Gail Peterson analyzes rarely seen photos from a 1952 story in LOOK magazine featuring B. F. Skinner and Charles Ferster responding to a challenge to demonstrate the power of shaping, the first such public demonstration. Details of the photos are relevant to later empirical and conceptual developments.

In Good Company, when Psychology was Fun.
JOHN C. MALONE (University of Tennessee)
Abstract: E. B. Delabarre was a student of William James at Harvard in the 1880s and wrote a substantial part of James' Chapter 17 (“Sensation”) of the Principles of Psychology (1890). Later he worked with Edward Thorndike on Thorndike's ill-fated attempt to study “mind reading” by children. He received a PhD under Hugo Munsterberg at Freiburg and James later sent him to fetch Munsterberg to direct the Harvard Psychological Laboratories. Decades later, his son assisted B. F. Skinner in Skinner's unsuccessful attempt to modify blood pressure (vasoconstriction and dilation). E. B. Delabarre Sr. carried on his own research on volition and motor consciousness and devised a (painful) method for recording eye movements. He served as the main subject in that endeavor and in a lengthy study of what he found to be the many beneficial effects of hashish. He spent much time on the study of The Dighton Rock and other rocks of New England that carried ancient markings. Perhaps his most enduring achievement was the founding of the psychological laboratory at Brown University.
Back to the Future: B. F. Skinner, Third Variables, and the Concept of Context.
EDWARD K. MORRIS (University of Kansas)
Abstract: Until the advent of establishing operations, behavior analysis lacked a systematic concept of context. In Skinner's earliest work, though, he offered just that - a systematic concept of context he called “third variables.” Third variables were central to his system (e.g., in defining the unit of analysis) and his science (e.g., his research on deprivation), and were more inclusive than establishing operations. Almost as quickly, though, he dropped the concept. This presentation describes its natural history (e.g., its genesis), what it included (e.g., conditioning, drive, biology), and its role in Skinner's system (e.g., it explained variability) and science (e.g., a subject matter in its own right). The presentation also considers why Skinner dropped the concept (e.g., to avoid reification, address particulars) and the consequences of doing so, among them, that it constrained the field's search for a fuller range of factors affecting behavior and misled its critics (e.g., to think it was an S-R psychology). In later addressing the consequences, Skinner sometimes referred back to the role third variables played in his system and science. Had he not dropped the concept, however, these consequences might not have occurred to the extent that they did in the first place.
The World's First LOOK at Shaping.
GAIL B. PETERSON (University of Minnesota)
Abstract: The practical, by-hand shaping of behavior is now such a well-known concept and widespread practice that it is hard to imagine a time, not long ago, when it was essentially unknown, yet that was clearly once the case. This presentation includes rarely seen photographs of the first large-scale demonstration of shaping by B. F. Skinner and C. B. Ferster, and illustrates how the bold generalization of a basic principle Skinner had uncovered in his laboratory was subjected to a rigorous, open, totally novel, and somewhat risky validation test, virtually right before the public's eyes. Photographic details suggest that, beyond being an important demonstration, the occasion may well have prompted Skinner to return to the laboratory to investigate the possibility of “a second type of 'superstition'.” The behavioral observations documented that day also appear relevant to more recently described phenomena, such as sign tracking and target training. An awareness of this history is important for behavior analysts because it brings into focus the under-appreciated fact that this powerful method for changing behavior was a genuine scientific discovery of great theoretical and practical significance, and not the intuitively-obvious, long-known, common-sense process it is often assumed to be.



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