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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Paper Session #226
Conceptual Issues: Continuity, Time, Organism, and Truth
Sunday, May 28, 2017
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom F/G
Area: PCH
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Chair: Jay Moore (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

Behavior is Behavior—At Least in Theory: Examining Continuity Theory in Modern Behavior Analysis

Domain: Theory
NEAL SHIPLEY (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Online)

Continuity theory is the simple assertion that behavior is behaviorthat is, if the theories and laws of behaviorism are correct, any organism should be able to acquire any type of response, given adequate training. This has been one of the underpinnings of the experimental branch of behaviorism since the sciences inception, yet modern data seems divergent on the issue; some data indicate that certain repertoires (under the umbrella of complex verbal behavior) are only attainable by human beings. Other data indicate that several higher species (e.g. humans, primates) are capable of developing complex repertoires, while smaller factions of data support that even lower species (e.g. honeybees) are capable of acquiring complex response repertoires. The study of continuity is further muddled by conflicting paradigms of anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism, each of which presents many similarities, but also some crucial differences in operational, behavioral definitions. The current paper seeks to investigate these divergent interpretations of continuity, and proposes several potentialities for continuing research in the direction of continuity.

Behavior Analytic Pragmatism
Domain: Theory
JAY MOORE (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
Abstract: Pragmatism is the position that the merit of some intellectual entity—be it an idea, concept, statement, proposition, theory, or explanation—is most reasonably assessed in terms of the role that entity plays in one’s life. Notwithstanding its links to empiricism, pragmatism is of largely American origin, its beginnings associated with the names of C. S. Pierce, William James, and John Dewey, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Pragmatism has enjoyed a resurgence beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century, for example, as represented in the work of Richard Rorty. A number of behavior analysts have suggested that the truth criterion for Skinner’s radical behaviorism revolves around pragmatism. This presentation further explores the relation between Skinner’s radical behaviorism and pragmatism. Of special interest is the relation between the view in radical behaviorism that the meaning of a term follows from an analysis of the contingencies responsible for the term in question, and the embrace in pragmatism of anti-representational, anti-essentialist views of language.
The Organism Is Always Right: What Does It Mean?
Domain: Theory
EDWARD K. MORRIS (University of Kansas)
Abstract: In Walden Two, Skinner wrote, “In my early experimental days, I remember the rage I used to feel when a prediction went awry. I could have shouted at the subjects of my experiments, “Behave damn you! Behave as you ought!” Eventually, I realized that the subjects were always right. Later, Skinner and others extended the phrase – “the subjects were always right” -- to rats, pigeons, children, and students, and eventually to organisms, as in “the organism is always right.” This presentation addresses the phrase’s meaning and implications. In behavior analysis, it means that an organism’s behavior is, in principle, always lawful and orderly, given the contingencies and context. It is not capricious or due to personal agency. It does not mean, though, that anything goes, for instance, that behavior is necessarily correct or moral. That is, it may be right, yet also incorrect or immoral. The presentation then explores the phrase’s implications for behavior analysts as professionals and practitioners, for instance, for social validity and ethics in applied research and application. It also extends its implications for everyday life, in particular, for how we treat and regard others. On this account, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are “right.”

Time: Some Questions for a Behavioral Analysis

Domain: Theory
M. N. HEGDE (California State University, Fresno (Emeritus))

Both Eastern and Western ancient philosophers and modern scientists have debated whether time exists as an absolute entity or it is only an illusion. Among physicists, two main theories are prominent: the Einsteinian theory that there is no absolute time, TimeSpace being a single entity. Non-Einsteinian theory that time is real and all experiences are measured in terms of time. Some psychologists have asserted that felt time or experienced time is real. This position is closer to the physicists' non-Einsteinian theory of time. There is no comparable behavioral analysis of time. A temporal arrangement is inherent to contingencies of behavior; but does a dependency among stimulus-response-consequent events confirm the existence of time? Is 'time' just a form of verbal behavior from which it is unwise to infer the existence or nonexistence of time, absolute or relative? Does learning require time or only certain events? Do behavioral events occur in a temporal medium or do they just occur in succession? Do we need the concept of time to analyze 'succession of events' or are there alternatives? What is a behavioral account of such statements as the following: 'both the past and the future are in the present'; 'future is predictable or that it is not'; 'there is no future without a past'; 'the past is past, the future is not here, and therefore, only the present is real.' 'I told you yesterday.' 'I will see you tomorrow.' 'This is taking too long.' 'That was too short.' 'Time is not passing.' 'Time passed quickly.' Ultimately, would a behavioral analysis support an existing philosophical or physical explanation of time? Or, will it offer a unique explanation? These are among the several questions one needs to consider in making a behavioral analysis of time as potential reality (or an illusion) and as a form of verbal behavior. This presentation is an attempt to draw the behavioral scientists' attention to the concept of time and encourage discussion and possible research. Some tentative behavioral answers will be offered for discussion.




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