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.


46th Annual Convention; Online; 2020

Event Details

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Symposium #382
CE Offered: BACB
Emotions: Is It really Possible to Teach Those With Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Learners to Tact Inners?
Monday, May 25, 2020
12:00 PM–12:50 PM
Area: PCH/CBM; Domain: Translational
Chair: T. V. Joe Layng (Generategy, LLC)
Discussant: Richard T. Codd (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Center of WNC, PA)
CE Instructor: Richard T. Codd, Ph.D.

Being sensitive and understanding one’s emotions and the emotions of others is considered critical to social behavior. Some may fail to adequately develop such sensitivity and understanding without direct intervention. One such intervention is to help a learner to tact private stimuli arising from their body as a particular emotion. Such training relies upon inferring what stimuli might be accompanying certain “emotional behavior.” This approach assumes that there are readily identifiable unique private stimuli associated with such behavior. The task is to help a learner identify and name (tact) these stimuli. Another approach is to help children to identify emotions that others are experiencing based upon facial expression. It is assumed that there are readily identifiable facial expressions linked to consistent private emotions. Analysis of data from hundreds of neuroscience studies and thousands of subjects suggest both of these approaches may be flawed. This symposium will first present neuroscience data which challenge the assumption that there are unique private stimuli or brain circuitry associated with emotion, and that suggests there is no evidence that facial expressions reflect emotion. It will then suggest a formulation and interventions consistent with both these data and a consequential contingency analysis.

Target Audience:

Professional involved in the teaching or behavioral intervention with those who may be developmentally challenged, and those involved with clinical behavioral intervention.

How Neuroscience Informs a Behavioral Approach to Understanding Emotions
AWAB ABDEL-JALIL (University of North Texas)
Abstract: There are several assumptions about emotions: emotions have a neuronal fingerprint, emotions are expressed similarly across different people, emotions can be read on people’s faces, emotion circuits exist in the brain, neurons are triggered leading to an emotion felt, and people can be taught to tact their private emotions. A recent book by Lisa Feldman Barrett, “How Emotions are Made” (2017) addressed these assumptions and more. She cites numerous studies and large meta-analyses that found no specific or consistent neural or physiological “fingerprints” for emotions in the body. In other words, there is no consistent bodily response for individual emotions, and the same bodily response can occur across emotions. She points out that brain areas that have been demonstrated to be important for emotions are not sufficient or necessary for emotions. Emotions do not reside in the brain and they are not simply internal responses. Facial electromyography studies reveal that there is little support for facial expressions reflecting emotions. Accordingly, It may be futile to teach tacting private events, or to recognize emotions in faces.
Teaching the Identification of Emotions: A Consequential Contingency Analysis Approach
NOLAN WILLIAMS (Leonville Elementary School, Leonville, LA), T. V. Joe Layng (Generategy, LLC)
Abstract: Given the neuroscience data that suggest there are no unique private stimuli associated with human emotions, and no unique brain circuitry or neural “finger prints,” how can we account for the emotions we feel and our ability to infer what others may be feeling? Recently, Layng 2006; 2016; 2017) has elaborated on an approach to understanding emotions first articulated by Israel Goldiamond (1979) that is consistent with modern neuroscience data. In this approach emotions arise not as respondent behavior or as internal stimuli or states, but as descriptors of consequential contingencies, that is, they describe the contingency context in which one participates. The physiological changes take their “meaning” from this context. The same private stimuli and neural pattern may be part of separate “felt” emotions as contingencies change. Excitement under one condition may be physiologically nearly the same as anxiety or glee under another. What is “felt” is a function of the consequential contingencies. We can learn to be sensitive to our and others’ emotions by becoming sensitive to the contingencies they describe. This formulation suggests emotions can be understood, and changed, as contingencies are changed.



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