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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Invited Paper Session #411
CE Offered: BACB

Evolutionary Theory is the Proper Framework for Behavior Analysis.

Sunday, May 27, 2007
2:30 PM–3:20 PM
Douglas C
Area: DEV; Domain: Theory
CE Instructor: William M. Baum, Ph.D.
Chair: Jacob L. Gewirtz (Florida International University)
WILLIAM M. BAUM (University of California, Davis)
Dr. William M. Baum received his B.A. in psychology from Harvard College in 1961. Originally a biology major, he switched into psychology after taking courses from B. F. Skinner and R. J. Herrnstein in his freshman and sophomore years. He returned to Harvard University for graduate study in 1962, where he was supervised by Herrnstein and received his Ph.D. in 1966. He spent the 1965-66 academic year at Cambridge University, studying ethology at the Sub-Department of Animal Behavior. From 1966 to 1975, he held appointments as post-doctoral fellow, research associate, and assistant professor at Harvard University. He spent two years at the National Institutes of Health Laboratory for Brain, Evolution, and Behavior. Dr. Baum accepted an appointment in psychology at University of New Hampshire in 1977 and retired from there in 1999. He currently has an appointment as Associate Researcher at University of California, Davis and lives in San Francisco. His research concerns choice, molar relations in reinforcement, foraging, and behaviorism. He is the author of a book, Understanding Behaviorism: Behavior, Culture, and Evolution.

Like contemporary psychology, behavior analysis developed with the framework of nineteenth-century associationism, which ignored evolution. With minor exceptions, behavior analysis has failed to re-orient itself in the light of modern evolutionary theory. Instead, behavior analysts have adopted an oversimplified view of the dependence of behavior on evolution in which some behavior is set aside as given and other behavior is regarded as modifiable. The result has been a paucity of concepts and over-reliance on conditioning and reinforcement. To grasp the true significance of evolution, one must understand that all behavior depends on genetic inheritance. The reason is that, whether we are talking about cockroaches or humans, behavior exists to promote fitness. It is modifiable by environmental factors only in ways and by means that genes permit or encourage. The explanation and modification of behavioral phenotypes depends on illuminating the effects of natural selection and the effects of environmental factors in development. Genes that promote and constrain development often allow phenotypic flexibility, but within limits imposed by the mechanisms resulting from natural selection. This point may be illustrated by a series of examples. One conclusion is that the events called reinforcers may be understood in the light of natural selection, as phylogenetically important events that do much more than reinforce.




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