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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Invited Tutorial #355
Tutorial: Our Technical Vocabulary of Discrimination: Potential Social and Political Side-Effects
Monday, May 28, 2007
10:00 AM–10:50 AM
Douglas B
Area: TPC/EAB; Domain: Theory
Chair: Sam Leigland (Gonzaga University)
Presenting Authors: : A. CHARLES CATANIA (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

In the technical vocabulary of behavior analysis, we discuss discrimination in the context of specifying conditions under which organisms come to behave one way given some stimuli and a different way given others. But in everyday talk, we more often discuss discrimination in the context of concerns about how people treat each other, as when we ask whether individuals are discriminated against on the basis of race or ethnicity or gender. Have we missed some political and social implications of our technical vocabulary? The varied usages have an underlying commonality. Whether pigeons respond differently to green and red keys or law enforcement officers to members of the public depending on their looks, the issue is how discriminated responding is brought about by contingencies and what can be done when those contingencies produce problematic behavior. If a member of some racial or ethnic group is mistreated by members of another group, that individual will come to discriminate on the basis of group membership as surely as a rat between a stimulus during which lever pressing produces shock and one during which it does not. However much we may wish it otherwise, contingencies maintain discriminations involving neighborhoods in which people travel and individuals with whom they interact. Existing social and political environments make such discriminations sometimes inevitable, but we know some things about behavior that may help us to cope with them constructively. This presentation therefore addresses these issues in terms of such behavior analytic categories as differential attention to stimuli, formation and abolition of discriminations, and conditional discrimination.

A. CHARLES CATANIA (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
Dr. A. Charles Catania began his career in behavior analysis in fall 1954, when he enrolled in Fred Keller’s course in introductory psychology at Columbia. His experiences while a student included summer employment at Harlem Hospital. At the time, civil rights marches were current news and discriminatory practices with regard not only to race but also to gender, ethnic origins, and other dimensions, were widespread in many societal institutions, including educational ones. At Columbia, Catania also took a seminar on verbal behavior jointly taught by Keller, Schoenfeld and Hefferline. Catania learned more about verbal behavior and about discrimination in a technical behavior analytic sense as he continued his education at Harvard and in his later research and teaching. In recent years, he has become concerned with how a word such as discrimination affects students with varied backgrounds who take courses in behavior analysis and encounter it there for the first time in its technical sense. This topic therefore brings together two of Catania’s long-term major interests within behavior analysis, i.e., the basic contingencies underlying stimulus control and the analysis of verbal behavior.



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