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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Symposium #522
Behavioral Contingency Analysis in Management and Education
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
9:00 AM–10:20 AM
Area: OBM/TPC; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Francis Mechner (The Mechner Foundation)
Abstract: The managers of organizations, whether in business, education, government, or other, must make decisions based on their perception of the operative behavioral contingencies. When faced with any type of management problem involving the behavior of people, they must identify the parties whose actions are relevant, their possible actions, the consequences—positive, negative, or neutral—of those actions for all the parties involved, the parties’ likely perceptions and predictions of those consequences, as well as their possible misperceptions, non-perceptions, wrong predictions, non-predictions, and uncertainties regarding all of these. They must also consider the perceived and actual time lags, probabilities, and magnitudes of the likely consequences, the actions that can prevent or alter the probabilities or magnitudes of consequences, and changes in the magnitude or probabilities of consequences as a function of actions or the passage of time. A formal language for the codification of behavioral contingencies will be presented, with its own vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, along with examples of its applications to a wide range of complex situations. The examples will be drawn from diverse areas of management including negotiation, safety, sales and marketing, and personnel management. Algorithms, techniques, and procedures for the practical application of behavioral contingency analysis will be proposed.
A Formal Language for the Codification of Behavioral Contingencies.
FRANCIS MECHNER (The Mechner Foundation)
Abstract: A formal symbolic language for the analysis and codification of behavioral contingencies will be presented. The main elements of the language are: • A followed by a horizontal arrow, read as, “If act A is performed then … (a consequence).” Every A is preceded by an implied “If.” • The agent(s) of an act A are designated by arbitrary letters placed in front of the A (e.g., aA, bcA). • T arrow, read as “upon termination of time T …” • A consequence C is any situation or event resulting from an A or a T. The term refers to all relevant aspects of the prevailing environment. Consequences can be positive, negative, or neutral for any party. • A consequence is prevented when the arrow leading to it is cut by a vertical arrow originating from another A or T. • A bracket enclosing vertically listed As, Ts, or Cs indicates simultaneity of onset of the listed conditions. Additional notational devices indicate the parties that perceive, misperceive, don’t perceive, predict, mispredict, or don’t predict any of the events, as well as their probabilities or magnitudes. Because all modifiers can also apply to other modifiers in hierarchical and recursive fashion, the language can express subtle nuances of meaning.
Improving Safety Practices through Behavioral Contingency Analysis.
TERRY E. MCSWEEN (Quality Safety Edge)
Abstract: The installation of safety practices in work environments involves the analysis and design of the operative behavioral contingencies. The parties involved are usually workers, supervisors, the company, and the insurance company. The contingencies often involve tradeoffs between short-term and long-term positive and negative consequences for all of the involved parties. Several safety-related contingencies will be analyzed and codified using Mechner’s behavioral contingency language. An important safety practice in work environments is the use of safety gear. The time and effort of donning it and the possible discomfort of wearing it are the short-term negative consequences of using it. The longer-term consequence for all the parties is a reduced probability of a serious negative consequence. The worker may also be avoiding the short-term negative consequence of a reprimand if his supervisor sees him working without the safety gear, and the supervisor’s act of monitoring the workers’ safety practices avoids a low-probability but serious negative consequence. Analysis of the detailed dynamics involved in such contingencies can suggest ways to install features that make them more effective. Other safety practices that will be discussed are the use of lift teams for patient transfer by nurses, production employees conducting safety observations, and the reporting of infractions.
Behavioral Contingencies in the Business World.
V. THOMAS MAWHINNEY (University of Detroit Mercy)
Abstract: In the world of business, behavioral contingencies—the “if, then” relationships between acts and their consequences for the involved parties—determine what parties do and don’t do. An example is the behavior of a rogue trader in Singapore who caused the collapse of Barings Bank when it was discovered that he had incurred and concealed huge trading losses while at the same time trying to reverse them. This is a case of the often-seen “riding the tiger” contingency where the magnitude of the negative consequence of a necessary act increases as a function of time. The trader’s superiors behaved in accordance with another set of contingencies when they failed to perform appropriate audits. They had no idea that the trader’s apparently stellar trading gains were bogus and that in fact he had hidden the losses that ultimately sank the bank. These types of contingencies, which involve the parties’ diverse perceptions, misperceptions, and non-perceptions of consequences of acts, diverse estimations of probabilities of consequences, and time-based drifts of the magnitudes of consequences, will be analyzed by means of the formal symbolic language proposed by Mechner. Also analyzed will be the behavioral contingencies at play when an employee asks his manager for a raise.
Applications of Behavioral Contingency Analysis in Education.
MELINDA SOTA (Florida State University), Janet S. Twyman (Headsprout), Deborah Anne Haas (Headsprout), Jennifer D. Clayton (Headsprout), T. V. Joe Layng (Headsprout)
Abstract: Complex behavioral contingencies lie at the center of events occurring in a wide variety of systems, including those in the areas of business and education. When changes are made to processes within these systems, those changes are often made to the contingencies involved. Therefore, analysis of these complex contingencies is important in providing support for contingency modification and design. Recently, Francis Mechner proposed a formal symbolic language for codifying behavioral contingencies, including the complex contingencies encountered in areas such as education and business management. This language specifies relationships between acts and their consequences using a specialized vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. This presentation will illustrate its application to the analysis of the complex contingencies involving vendors of educational products and their clients, and the contingencies often encountered in the interactions of school administrators, teachers, parents, and students when new practices or systems are introduced. Examples of situations that will be considered are often-seen interactions of the concerns of administrators, parent expectations or demands, the inertia of educational practices, student progress, time factors, and the consequences for all parties of the involved parties’ actions.



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