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 #25
International Symposium - Ins and Outs of Covert Behavior and Private Events
Saturday, May 26, 2007
1:00 PM–2:20 PM
Cunningham A
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Jose E. Burgos (Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones en Comportamiento - University of Guadalajara)
Discussant: M. Jackson Marr (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Abstract: This symposium explores some aspects of the radical-behavioristic interpretation of covert behavior and private events.
Why the Radical Behaviorist Conception of Private Events is Interesting, Relevant, and Important.
JAY MOORE (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)
Abstract: The radical behaviorist conception of private events is concerned with the influence of (a) sensations and feelings and (b) covert behavior. In each case, radical behaviorists can account for the origin of the phenomenon in question, as well as its causal role in subsequent verbal and nonverbal behavior. Moreover, radical behaviorists do so without appealing to causal events from somewhere else, at some other level of observation, described in different terms, and measured, if at all, in different dimensions–events, for example, in the real nervous system, the conceptual system, or the mind. The radical behaviorist conception allows one to approach private events as behavioral phenomena related to contingencies, without retreating to methodological behaviorism disguised by purportedly “theoretical” language incorporating purported cognitive acts, states, mechanisms, processes, or entities.
The Threshold of Observability Depends on the Vantage Point of the Observer.
DAVID C. PALMER (Smith College)
Abstract: Science is often called upon to make sense of phenomena which cannot be experimentally analyzed. It does so by appealing to uniformitarianism, that is, the assumption that phenomena outside the laboratory are governed by the same principles as those within it. This assumption might be wrong, of course, but it is rendered more plausible, at least in the case of private events, by the consideration that the boundary between public and private events continually shifts according to the circumstances of the observer. That is, privacy is not determined by the nature of the behavior under study but by the vantage point of the observer. Interpretive exercises serve the function of providing a consistent account of the full range of behavioral phenomena, of guiding research, and of displacing occult explanations. In many interpretive tasks, a failure to appeal to private events leaves us with no explanation at all. The traditional accounts of the mystic, the mentalist, and the spiritualist are allowed to carry the explanatory burden by default.
Is Covert Behavior Operant?
JOSE E. BURGOS (Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones en Comportamiento - University of Guadalajara)
Abstract: The Skinnerian account of covert behavior has been criticized for not being supported by empirical evidence and not defining covert behavior. The first criticism is correct only regarding public evidence, which is more relevant to experimental analysis. Skinner’s account is an interpretation, where conceptual coherence is more relevant. One’s own covert behavior provides direct evidence for its existence, which is coherent with the interpretation. To address the second criticism, I ask whether covert behavior is operant, that is, whether it is modifiable by consequences. The question is empirical, but cannot be answered in terms of public evidence without appealing to introspection. However, it can be answered in terms of one’s own covert behavior in some prototypical situation. To study this behavior, one would have to design the situation, define a covert-response unit, count its instances, register time, and compute and compare covert-response rates. Such activities involve covert behaviors as well, which raises the issues of whether they are operants themselves and how they interact with the covert behavior under self-study. Attempts to resolve the first issue trigger an infinite regress that precludes a determination of the operant character for some covert behavior. The second issue brings concerns about confounding factors.



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