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.


36th Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2010

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #197
Behavior Analysis and the Ethics of Contemporary Cultures
Sunday, May 30, 2010
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
103AB (CC)
Domain: Theory
Chair: David A. Eckerman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
A. CHARLES CATANIA (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
A. Charles Catania is Professor Emeritus at UMBC, where he co-founded its MA track in Applied Behavior Analysis. He is Past-President of ABAI and of Division 25 of the American Psychological Association and has served as Editor of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. He had the great good fortune to start his career in Fall 1954 in Fred Keller’s introductory psychology course, which included a weekly rat lab, and later to serve as TA in Nat Schoenfeld’s Experimental Psychology sequence. He earned his Ph.D. at Harvard, where he then conducted postdoctoral research in Skinner’s pigeon laboratory. Catania continued working with rats and pigeons and other organisms over subsequent decades, during which he became increasingly impressed by striking parallels between biological accounts of evolution in terms of Darwinian natural selection and behavior analytic accounts of operant behavior in terms of the selection of behavior by its consequences. He sees the methods and concepts of the biological sciences as having much to offer to our field and has argued that the science of behavior might best be regarded as a component of the biological sciences. The lesson that the study of nonhuman behavior is essential to our understanding of verbal behavior also came from Columbia, where in Spring 1957 Catania took a seminar on verbal behavior jointly taught by Fred Keller, Nat Schoenfeld and Ralph Hefferline. The course began by covering Skinner's William James lectures and then, when Skinner's Verbal Behavior was published midway into the semester, by comparing the older and newer versions. Though virtually all of Catania’s early experimental work was devoted to nonhuman learning, the concentration on behavior without words was critical; a pigeon’s behavior is hard to understand precisely because it doesn't involve words. Behavior without words reveals what is special about human verbal behavior, which is necessarily built upon a nonverbal foundation. Catania’s earlier work on learning without words was highly appropriate preparation for teaching courses on verbal behavior, because it made some special features of verbal behavior stand out clearly. One function of his textbook, Learning, is to integrate the topics of nonverbal and verbal behavior, which have too often been given separate treatments.
Abstract: Whether a science can have ethical implications is controversial. At a minimum, we know that our science cannot progress without maintaining correspondences between events and our accounts of those events; in western culture we speak of those correspondences in terms of truth. This suggests that the treatment of truth in the analysis of verbal behavior can be brought to bear on ethical issues. Arenas in which behavior analysis and its foundational philosophy, radical behaviorism, confronts and interacts with the ethical practices of contemporary cultures include (1) alternative treatments of political concepts such as freedom and control, (2) debates over the role of aversive contingencies both in cultures and in applications of our science, and (3) the implications of a science of verbal behavior for religious and political practices. We often frame our discussions of social contingencies in terms of managing contingencies of positive reinforcement. But because verbal behavior can amplify the effects of all varieties of the contingencies that operate on human behavior, it is appropriate also to extend our treatments of contingencies to issues of war, coercive political regimes, and national and international legal systems, all of which depend heavily on aversive contingencies.



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