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.


43rd Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2017

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #475
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

A Behavioral Analysis of Aesthetic Responses

Monday, May 29, 2017
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom D
Domain: Theory
Instruction Level: Intermediate
CE Instructor: Francis Mechner, Ph.D.
Chair: Peter R. Killeen (Arizona State University)
FRANCIS MECHNER (The Mechner Foundation; Columbia University)
Mechner received his doctorate in 1957 from Columbia University under Professors Keller and Schoenfeld, and continued on the teaching faculty until 1960. He did much of his work on the behavioral analysis of aesthetics during his years at Columbia (1948-1960), having spent his earlier years as a concert pianist, painter, and chess master. In the early 1960s he developed an instructional technology based on behavioral analysis and used it to create instructional programs for high schools, medical schools, industry, and government, and with UNESCO, to modernize science teaching internationally. Under government contracts he led the creation of prototype Job Corps Training Centers. In 1968 he founded and operated the original Paideia School, featuring individualized education. In 1970 he participated in the design of Sesame Street. With support from the U.S. Dept. of HEW he created educational daycare systems for four states, and testified before the Senate Finance Committee in support of the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971. With endorsement from the OECD, several countries, including Brazil, implemented Mechner's manpower development technology. Mechner's work has included: laboratory research on operant behavior and resurgence; development of a formal symbolic language for codifying behavioral contingencies; founding and operating innovative schools; and conducting continuing R&D programs in educational technology.

The responses we call aesthetic are instances of synergetic phenomena�elements interacting with a transformative effect. Such effects are pervasive in nature, as when chemical reagents react to create another substance, DNA creates organisms, or photosynthesis creates leaves. This conceptualization of aesthetic responses as synergetic phenomena puts the spotlight on the behavioral priming histories of audiences (viewers, listeners, etc.) with respect to the interacting elements�sounds, visual stimuli, words, abstract concepts. actions, or sensations. Aesthetic responses are complex, surprise-tinged emotional reactions. Artists, composers, poets, writers, performers, architects, or chefs create aesthetic effects by assembling such elements as ingredients of �synergetic brews.� To create these brews, they use a limited set of concept manipulation devices. Key factors that determine the aesthetic impact of such synergetic brews are prevailing behavioral contingencies and potentiating circumstances that act much like catalysts for the synergetic interaction�for instance, socio-cultural factors. Mechner shows how synergetic effects based on the use of the described concept manipulation devices are manifested in diverse art forms and disciplines�music, visual art, literature, humor, architecture, science, etc. He also shows how some of these devices can be modeled in the laboratory, and proposes research strategies for increasing our understanding of the pervasive behavioral phenomenon we call aesthetics. Dr. Killeen will offer comments following Dr. Mechner's paper.

Target Audience:

Intermediate; master's level (BCBA) or master's students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) illustrate the relationship among the terms "synergetic interaction," "synergetic brew," "aesthetic response," "surprise," "emotion," "primed," and "potentiating factors;" (2) state five features that aesthetic responses have in common; (3) describe at least three devices used in the arts as ingredients of synergetic brews that can generate aesthetic responses.



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