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 #198
International Symposium - Behaviorism and Consciousness: Four Insights
Sunday, May 28, 2006
3:00 PM–4:20 PM
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: John C. Malone (University of Tennessee)
Abstract: This symposium comprises four insightful discussions of the age-old question of the nature of consciousness. Hank Schlinger criticizes the usual vague and shaky descriptions of consciousness, coupled with the constant and misdirected search for neural correlates. He proposes a workable definition of consciousness and an account of its development. Gail Peterson considers the classic studies of split-brain humans and the apparent separation of behavior and conscious control. Though often cited as problems for behaviorism, Peterson shows that they are consonant with a behavioral analysis. For many years, Bob Wahler has trained parents in child-rearing and has recently found that those parents who can construct clear and coherent accounts of their pasts can better provide proper social environments for children. He now teaches parents to be conscious of their pasts and this increases the benefits of parent training. Finally, Francois Tonneau shows that the Neorealist philosophers, at Harvard early in the 20th Century, proposed that consciousness is not within us, but in the environment. This view solves thorny problems and emphasizes a new metaphysic of time and behavior that shares aspects of modern molar behaviorism.
Why Consciousness Hasn’t Been Explained…Until Now.
HENRY D. SCHLINGER (California State University, Los Angeles)
Abstract: In the past 15 years there has been an explosion of interest in consciousness among psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists. In particular, cognitive neuroscientists have attempted to identify the so-called neural correlates of consciousness. Despite this flurry of activity, however, consciousness remains undefined and unexplained. I describe two reasons for this state of affairs. First, researchers cannot seem to shake free from the vague philosophical descriptions of consciousness that have plagued the topic for centuries. Second, there is an overemphasis on neuroreductionism (proximate causation) at the expense of a sound theory of behavior (ultimate causation). As an alternative, I define consciousness as the ability of individuals to talk (either publicly or privately) about the environment, their own overt and covert behavior, and the stimuli that cause it, and then describe how one learns to become conscious.
Split Brains and Behaviorism: A Needed Reconnection.
GAIL B. PETERSON (University of Minnesota)
Abstract: The classic studies of split-brain humans show that complex behavior that would normally seem to require conscious control can nevertheless be performed proficiently in the total absence of conscious awareness of the relevant stimuli or even of the behavior itself. Moreover, these studies strongly suggest that, when conscious awareness is reported, the neural structures subserving it are the same ones that subserve overt verbal behavior. It is argued that, instead of being problematic for Behaviorism, as they are often portrayed to be, these findings are completely consistent with Behaviorism’s traditional treatment of consciousness.
Parents’ Autobiographical Narratives: Setting Events For Contemplation?
ROBERT G. WAHLER (University of Tennessee)
Abstract: The research literature has repeatedly documented a modest positive correlation between the coherence of parents’ stories of their life experiences and their sensitivity in responding to their children. These findings suggest that parents who are able to construct personal accounts of the past in clear and credible manner may also have the ability to provide appropriate social contingencies when interacting with their children. Schwartzman and Wahler (in press) conducted an experimental test of this assumption by helping clinic-referred mothers to improve the coherence of their life stories. Results showed that these mothers increased their story coherence and they clearly benefited more from parent training than did a control group. We have reason to believe that enhanced conscious coherence in a parent’s life story promotes that adult’s mindful awareness of parenting issues. Our current work is focused on parents’ contemplation of changes in their parenting practices as a function of improvement in the coherence of their life stories.
Private, Yes. Covert, No.
FRANCOIS TONNEAU (Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico)
Abstract: In Skinner’s radical behaviorist framework, dreams, mental images, and hallucinations are conceived as covert behavioral events. I this talk, I argue that the radical-behaviorist view cannot be correct and that dreams, images, and the like are environmental instead of behavioral entities. This alternative view, derived from the early neorealism of Holt and Montague (and rooted in the notion of intrinsic physical property), supports four-dimensionalism as a metaphysics of time, and shares important commonalities with molar behaviorism as an explanation of psychological performance.



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