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.


33rd Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2007

Event Details

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Symposium #22
From Baling Wire to Microprocessors: The Past, Present, and Future of the Programming of Contingencies
Saturday, May 26, 2007
1:00 PM–2:20 PM
Madeleine CD
Area: EAB/TPC; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Kennon A. Lattal (West Virginia University)
Abstract: The papers in this symposium examine how contingencies of reinforcement have been arranged in the history of the experimental analysis of behavior. It begins with Skinner’s original experimental work, examines the transition from electromechanical programming to that arranged by digital computers, and ends with observations about the present and future of programming. The papers also consider the human side of programming and how the programming technology interfaces with the experimenter to create unique circumstances that give rise to both new behavioral problems for study and new solutions to the experimental analysis of old problems.
It Was a Snap (Lead): Early Apparatus for the Programming of Contingencies.
KENNON A. LATTAL (West Virginia University)
Abstract: The arrangement of precise programming of contingencies of reinforcement and punishment began in the 1930s, with Skinner’s innovations in experimental method in psychology. Skinner’s combinations of electric switches, timing devices, jury-rigged gizmos, and kymographs were replicated and expanded upon by subsequent generations of experimental behavior analysts. These early innovations led to the use of electromechanical relay switches to program contingencies. After a relatively brief transitional period when transistors replaced or complemented electromechanical modules, the computer revolution was embraced by the experimental analysis of behavior. Even here, however, the tinkerer in many laboratory scientists was manifest, with innovations that will be discussed more fully by the other participants in this symposium.
Evolution of a Networked 1 ms Experiment Controller.
WILLIAM L. PALYA (Jacksonville State University)
Abstract: From the ignominious first experiment control system based on a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8s (38.5 KHz), we progressed to a Data General Nova with 8K bytes of memory and a paper tape operating system. We then used a DEC LSI-11 with 8 inch floppies. A major advance occurred when we developed a fully independent, networked 6809-based controller. The host computer evolved into a VAX with a fully integrated operant research/analysis work environment. The controller then evolved into an 80188 with two operant control languages and several I/O boards. Our current system is based on the same networked controller and an integrated work environment that runs under windows.
Contingencies of Reinforcement Embedded in Equipment: The Dos and Don’ts of Setting up an Experiment.
IVER H. IVERSEN (University of North Florida)
Abstract: The presentation will illustrate using various anecdotal examples how failures to set up equipment correctly may result in altered and often unwanted contingencies of reinforcement. In addition, examples will be provided of some peculiar and often unheeded aspects of modern commercial equipment that may result in undesirable contingencies of reinforcement. Examples of very simple programming loops will illustrate how one can effectively use the parallel port of any PC computer (with no or practically no interface equipment) to record from and control operant equipment. The presentation will also illustrate how the PC computer can be used as a cumulative recorder for display of ongoing session data from several boxes simultaneously and for subsequent analysis and presentation of cumulative records, including telescoping of the records.
Miniaturization and the Obfuscation of Technology: Or, Maybe it Would Be Easier to Pay an Undergraduate to Do It.
JAMES T. TODD (Eastern Michigan University)
Abstract: For the modern behavioral researcher, electronic miniaturization comes with many, many benefits and a few problems. Today¹s laboratory equipment is less expensive, more capable, and more reliable than anything previously available. But, the near self-evidence of relays, switches, counters, and timers, all mounted on friendly bakelite panels, has been replaced by the inscrutability of tiny black boxes connected to other tiny black boxes all inside a larger metal box that warns ominously that there are ³no user serviceable components inside.² Is the scientist-tinkerer of the past now obsolete?-driven to writing a substantial purchase order to Med-Associates or hiring a student to manually control an experiment that would have been done by relays just a generation ago? Maybe not. New classes of inexpensive user-programmable microprocessors, universal electronic interfaces, and simple scripting languages promise to bring back the joys of boffinry, and re-establish the do-it-all-yourself tradition of the pioneers of behavior analysis.



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