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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Symposium #88
CE Offered: BACB
Description, Explanation and Causation: A Host of Conceptual Confusions in Behavior Analysis of Development
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
3:00 PM–4:20 PM
L4 Room 2
Area: DEV/TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Martha Pelaez (Florida International University)
Discussant: Michael J. Dougher (University of New Mexico)
CE Instructor: Martha Pelaez, Ph.D.

Three presentations by Per Holth, Martha Pelaez, and Jack Marr, along with the discussion by Michael Dougher, examine theoretical and empirical problems related to category mistakes in psychology, the nature of causation in developmental behavior analysis, the relations between behavioral description and explanation, and current limitations on behavioral explanations of development. Various "isms" (from "holism" to "mechanism") make an appearance, but we hope to clarify the "isms" as well as their relevance to behavior analysis and allied philosophical traditions. The lack of appropriate methodology for capturing the effects of these multiple interactions is emphasized as well as a host of conceptual confusions.

Avoiding Category Mistakes - Tougher Than You Think.
PER HOLTH (Akershus University College)
Abstract: Almost 60 years have now passed since the publication of Gilbert Ryle's (1949) The Concept of Mind, in which he demonstrated quite forcefully how psychology and philosophy at the time were misled into making the type of errors he called 'category mistakes'. Although the mistakes involved in Ryle's simpler examples were easy to understand, we are still likely to make the same types of mistakes when confronted with more complex behavioral phenomena. Psychology texts are, typically, pervaded by category mistakes. Within behavior analysis, more effort has been put into avoiding such errors. Yet, they still occur in behavior-analytic texts, too, and additional teaching procedures seem needed to eschew them.
The Nature of Causation in Human Development.
MARTHA PELAEZ (Florida International University)
Abstract: The case is made that human development call for both, description and explanation. The author discusses different causes of behavior development from a dynamic systems approach and argues for their interrelatedness. None of these different causal explanations works in isolation-- without specification of the other. A rationale for embracing both, contextualism as an epistemological tool, and mechanism as an experimental practice in our understanding of these causes is presented. And the concept of contextual interacting variables or "interactants" is highlighted as well as the enormous challenges the study of multiple interactions in mother-child research presents to the scientist. The lack of appropriate methodology for capturing the effects of these multiple interactions is emphasized and some experimental examples provided.
How Do Things Work?
M. JACKSON MARR (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Abstract: Well over a decade ago there was a major flurry among the behaviorist community on the topic of "contextualism versus mechanism". At least among some significant quarters, for example, those still calling themselves "contextualists", this remains a matter of contention. In addition, those calling themselves "selectionists", who are beguiled by a rather loose metaphorical relation between evolutionary biology and the shaping of operant behavior, are also uncomfortable with something they call mechanism. In neither case is there compelling justification for such an anti-mechanistic position. Largely in the context of selection, I review some history of this anti-mechanistic stance, including what I think are a host of conceptual confusions, and, again, attempt to show that as behavioral scientists and engineers, we all, necessarily, are "mechanists"--we want to know how things work.



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