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.


34th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2008

Event Details

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Special Event #41
SQAB Tutorial: The Hierarchical Organization of Behavior
Saturday, May 24, 2008
2:00 PM–2:50 PM
Stevens 5
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Alex Kacelnik (Oxford University)
Presenting Authors: : C. R. GALLISTEL (Rutgers University)
Abstract: Elementary units of behavior are assemblages of neural, endocrine, and muscular components sufficient to explain naturally occurring actions. All such assemblages require an initiator component, where the neural signals that ultimately drive the action originate, conductor components that relay the signals from the initiators to the effectors, and effector components that translate the signals into movements and secretions. Some elementary units also contain computational elements, which perform basic computational operations like coordinate transformations, and some units contain memory elements, which hold the values of control variables, such as the angular velocity of a target. Neural circuits carrying timing signals and specifying the values of operating parameters, such as pacemaker periods, coordinate the operation of elementary units to form complex units, which are themselves coordinated to form still more complex units, yielding a hierarchical control structure. The behavioral expression of the units active high in the hierarchy exhibits many different forms, because different values for control parameters lead to different patterns from the same unit, and because much of the coordination is achieved by the selective potentiation and depotentiation of lower unit, so that the spectrum of potentiated lower units actived on a given occasion depends on occasion-specific trigger stimuli.
C. R. GALLISTEL (Rutgers University)
Dr. C. R. Gallistel obtained his Ph. D. in physiological psychology at Yale in 1966 and went straight to an assistant professorship in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he rose through the ranks, and eventually served a term as chair. In 1989, he moved to UCLA. In 2000, he moved to Rutgers, where he is Co-Director of the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science. His two best known books, The Organization of Action and The Organization of Learning are classics. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 experimental papers in the areas of learning, memory, motivation and animal cognition. His work emphasizes the role of innate structure in shaping intelligent behavior.



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