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.


Fourth International Conference; Australia, 2007

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #56
CE Offered: BACB

Behavioral Contingency Analysis and Human Affairs: A New Discipline?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007
9:00 AM–9:50 AM
Area: DEV; Domain: Theory
CE Instructor: Francis Mechner, Ph.D.
Chair: David C. Palmer (Smith College)
FRANCIS MECHNER (The Mechner Foundation)
Dr. Francis Mechner Born in Vienna, Mechner received his doctorate from Columbia University in 1957 under Keller and Schoenfeld, and then continued in the department as lecturer in experimental psychology until 1960. He developed the “counting schedule” and schedules for time estimation, and built a computerized psychopharmacology laboratory at Schering Corporation that featured the use of “rat rotors.” In 1959, he published a notation system for behavioral contingencies, the ancestor of his present system for the analysis of behavioral contingencies in human affairs. Mechner has also published numerous papers and chapters on his extensive research in the field of learning, some of it related to his avocational accomplishments as a pianist of concert caliber, linguist, chess and go master, and painter. Mechner has been funding his research activity personally through companies that he founded. The first, in 1960, was Basic Systems, Inc., which pioneered programmed learning, followed by ten more companies, each based on some innovative technology. From 1963-65, Mechner worked with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in upgrading science teaching in South America and Asia. In 1970 he participated in the development of Sesame Street. In the 1970s, he implemented early childhood development programs for state governments, and large-scale manpower development programs for the Brazilian government. He is currently a Trustee of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

A detailed understanding of the prevailing behavioral contingencies is a precondition for the management of most human affairs. This paper presents a language for analyzing and diagramming any system of behavioral contingencies, including the complex ones encountered in the fields of law, business, public affairs, sociology, education, and economics. The language for such analysis, and its associated notation system, specifies the if, then relationships between acts, their consequences, and the termination of time periods. Analyses and diagrams of wide-ranging examples like fraud, betting, blackmail, various games, theft, contracts, racing, competition, mutual deterrence, feuding, bargaining, deception, loan transactions, insurance, elections, global warming, personal tipping, vigilance, sexual overtures, decision making, mistaken identity, etc. are presented as illustrations of the ability of the languages three-term vocabulary (acts, consequences, and time period terminations) and the associated simple syntax to generate the myriad nuances of meaning needed to provide the required generality and reach. A process is outlined for using the system as a tool for addressing practical problems in the above areas. One approach is to develop computer software for simulating and modeling the ways in which various possible assumptions and contingency designs would play out, and the behavioral dynamics that would ensue.




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