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.


32nd Annual Convention; Atlanta, GA; 2006

Event Details

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Symposium #17
Behavior Analysis and Issues of Social Concern: From Metatheory to Praxis
Saturday, May 27, 2006
1:00 PM–2:20 PM
Area: CSE; Domain: Theory
Chair: Michelle Ennis Soreth (Temple University)
Discussant: Maria R. Ruiz (Rollins College)
Abstract: Behavior analysts have long addressed issues of social and ethical concern, typically asserting that social and cultural practices can be improved through a scientific approach to human behavior. Despite this long history, a detailed examination of the direct relation between behavior analysis and issues of social concern has yielded only a few seminal pieces of literature (e.g., Skinner, 1971; Sidman, 1989; Baum, 1979). This symposium will extend these analyses and examine the theoretical underlying assumptions of the behavioranalytic system that are relevant to issues of social, political, and ethical concern, and the manner in which they differ from other explanatory systems. The authors will describe the implications, practical considerations, and specific applications of these assumptions for the continued development of a technology of behavior and the continued pursuit of social justice and responsibility.
The Behavior Analytic Path to Social Justice is Paved with Implicit Assumptions.
MICHELLE ENNIS SORETH (Temple University), Philip N. Hineline (Temple University)
Abstract: One of the primary differences between behavior analysis and other psychological systems involves the nature of the explanatory prose found within each system. The directionality of explanatory prose used in behavior analysis is distinct from that commonly used in the vernacular and in many psychological theories to account for the behavior of others (Hineline, 1990). While the impact of behavior analytic explanatory patterns on notions of personal responsibility and freedom have been well established (Skinner, 1971; Baum, 2005), the view that the causal directionality within behavior analytic explanation is neither neutral nor value-free has yet to be discussed at great length. The extensions of psychological theories that elevate the person to causal status present potentially destructive social implications. However, behavior analysts may face a similar, inverse critique of their own system that focuses on the problems inherent in an account that privileges explanation in terms of environmental selection. Through an increased awareness of the implications for social justice that are inherent within the patterns of explanation of a given psychological system, behavior analysts can be better equipped to address criticisms of the theory in relation to social issues while advancing the behavior analytic system on both conceptual and technological levels.
The Implications of the Medical Model on Social and Mental Health Policies.
CHRISTEINE M. TERRY (University of Washington), Robert J. Kohlenberg (University of Washington)
Abstract: In the United States, the medical model of mental health is the foundation on which many decisions about diagnosis and treatment are built. In addition, research on mental health concerns utilizes the model to select research samples and outcome variables (e.g., remission of symptoms). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – IV, 2000) is perhaps, the most conspicuous sign of the medical model in mental health. While the medical model, particularly the use of the DSM-IV, may provide clinicians with a common language to discuss and research mental health concerns, others, including behavior analysts, have raised concerns about the use of the medical model in mental health (e.g., Follette, Bach, & Follette, 2003; McWilliams, 2005). In particular, behavior analysts have raised concerns about the nomothetic, as opposed to the idiographic, nature of the medical model. Psychologists have also raised concerns about the high rates of co-morbidity among disorders (e.g., depression and anxiety), which broaches concerns about the validity of diagnostic categorization and criteria. The current paper critically examines the use of the medical model in mental health as well as the implications of this model on treatment and mental health and social policies.
Critical Psychology: Building Careers in the Service of Social Justice.
MARY D. PLUMMER (University of Washington)
Abstract: This presentation explores the roles and responsibilities of behavioral scientists in working towards social justice in their professional fields and personal lives. In doing so, it references Critical Psychology [CP], an academic movement committed to challenging forces within mainstream psychology that maintain or perpetuate unjust political, economic, and societal structures. CP advocates a values-explicit psychological profession in the service of reciprocal empowerment, self-determination, distributive justice, human diversity, and democratic participation. While countless academics have published theory and empirical data regarding these issues, we as individuals and as a profession often limit our engagement to the written word, and rarely transfer our assertions into practice. This imbalance in our discipline is the product of multiple aspects of our professional culture and training, including failure to disseminate socially-relevant research findings within the communities which could most benefit; discomfort or ignorance surrounding the role of critical psychology within individual and group psychotherapy; arbitrary boundaries separating one’s professional and personal responsibility to alleviate human suffering; and lack of proximal reinforcement within one’s professional environment for orienting towards social justice. Each issue will be discussed and tackled, concluding with practical suggestions on how one might structure their work in the service of social justice.



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