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.


10th International Conference; Stockholm, Sweden; 2019

Event Details

Previous Page


Symposium #101
CE Offered: BACB
Rethinking Reinforcement
Monday, September 30, 2019
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Stockholm Waterfront Congress Centre, Level 2, C3
Area: EAB/PCH; Domain: Translational
Chair: Mitch Fryling (California State University, Los Angeles)
Discussant: Per Holth (OsloMet -- Oslo Metropolitan University)
CE Instructor: Mitch Fryling, Ph.D.

Reinforcement is fundamental to the analysis of behavior. Indeed, reinforcement plays a key role in most theoretical and philosophical work in behavior analysis, basic research in the experimental analysis of behavior, and in the application of behavioral principles towards socially significant behavior change. While the basics of reinforcement processes are well known to behavior analysts, researchers have continued to study reinforcement over the years, including the exploration of various details pertinent to different theories of reinforcement. The present symposium involves two presentations on the topic of reinforcement. The first presentation focuses on recent research related to various theories of reinforcement in the experimental analysis of behavior, including that pertaining to momentum, conditioned reinforcement, and response strength. After providing an overview of recent work in the area, questions about reinforcement as we know it are raised, setting the stage for the second presentation. The second presentation provides an alternative conceptualization of reinforcement. Problems with common ways of speaking about reinforcement in behavior analysis are highlighted, and an analysis of reinforcement as a setting factor is provided. The symposium concludes with a discussant commenting on various themes reviewed during the presentations.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Master's and doctoral level behavior analysts interested in learning more about reinforcement theory and alternative conceptualizations of reinforcement processes.

Learning Objectives: -Describe two areas of research in the experimental analysis of reinforcement. -Explain one concern with common ways of talking about reinforcement. -Summarize how reinforcement may be conceptualized as a setting factor.
Reinforcement: Recent Research and Conceptual Analysis
MITCH FRYLING (California State University, Los Angeles)
Abstract: While most behavior analysts probably have a good understanding of the basics of reinforcement processes, less is known about the various theories of reinforcement, including the ongoing basic research exploring different hypotheses related to those theories. The current presentation focuses on recent research in the experimental analysis of behavior that focuses on reinforcement theory, and especially examines work in the areas of behavioral momentum, conditioned reinforcement, and response strength. The core ideas and assumptions associated with various theories of reinforcement are highlighted, including the points of contact and departure among them. Areas of ongoing discussion and debate are highlighted as well. The primary aim of the presentation is to provide a brief overview of several ongoing areas of inquiry in the basic analysis of reinforcement, and to call attention to theoretical and conceptual implications. This update on reinforcement will also serve to set the stage for the second presentation, which offers a critique and alternative analysis.
Reinforcement as a Setting Factor
LINDA J. PARROTT HAYES (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: Events and their descriptions tend to be confused when the events present problems of observation, when they appear to resemble our descriptions of them, and when the events are taken to be synonymous with our reactions to them. Problems of these sorts are exacerbated when a focus on prediction and control, to the neglect of description and explanation, engenders the attribution of causal powers to particular events. Events identified by their temporal relations with respect to responses, in particular those occupying consequential relations, are held to have causal powers with respect to those responses. In short, reinforcement is held to be a causal process, one that is new in the sense that it follows rather than precedes the behavior it causes and is thereby applicable only to classes of behavior. It is held to be a process of selection. Support for this interpretation is drawn from a similar construction in biology, namely natural selection. The problem here is three fold: first, the description of events is confused with the events described; second, the description of events contains elements that are not found among the events themselves; and third, the same is true of the concept of natural selection. It is argued that selection, whether it be natural selection or selection by consequences, is not a causal process but rather a reference to an outcome of a complex set of changing circumstances. Reinforcement, as such, is interpreted as a setting factor, participating along with a multitude of other factors in an integrated field.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh