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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Invited Paper Session #469
CE Offered: BACB

Some of My Best Friends are Synapses: How Brain Science Can Inform Behavioral Intervention

Tuesday, May 30, 2006
12:00 PM–12:50 PM
Centennial Ballroom II
Area: AUT; Domain: Theory
CE Instructor: Travis Thompson, Ph.D.
Chair: Craig H. Kennedy (Vanderbilt University)
TRAVIS THOMPSON (School of Medicine, University of Minnesota)
Dr. Travis Thompson is a professor of pediatrics, in the School of Medicine at the University of Minnesota. He earned his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Minnesota; and completed his post-doctoral work at the University of Maryland and at Cambridge University, UK. He was previously Director of the John F. Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt University and Smith Professor of Psychiatry, University of Kansas Medical Center. Thompson was co-developer with C. R. Schuster of the drug self-administration model for screening potentially addictive drugs. He developed one of the early large-scale behavioral intervention programs for people with developmental disabilities. His applied and basic research includes experimental and applied behavior analysis, behavioral pharmacology, genetics and most recently brain imaging. Served as advisor/co-advisor of 47 doctorates in psychology, pharmacology, and special education. Awards: APA Div. 25 Don Hake Award (1990), the Research Award, Amer. Assoc. for Mental Retardation (1995), Distinguished Research Award, The Arc of the United States (1996), the Academy of Mental Retardation, Career Scientist Award (1998) and the American Psychological Association Div. 33 Edgar A. Doll Award (2002). Past president of the Behavioral Pharmacology Society, APA Divisions 28 (Psychopharmacology) and 33 (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities). Author of 217 journal articles and chapters and author/editor of 25 books.

Skinner's earliest work was influenced by Harvard physiologist L.J. Henderson and by C.S. Sherrington's reflex arc. While attracted to physiology's experimental method, Skinner rejected hypothetical constructs referring to immeasurable brain and genetic events. He later noted that the skin is not an important barrier suggesting variables within a behavioral analysis may reside beneath the skin. Nonetheless, Skinner's antipathy toward reductionistic explanation led later behavior analysts to ignore the legitimate role neurobiological events can play as variables within the analysis of behavior. Objectively measurable neurochemical and neurophysiological events can serve as discriminative and reinforcing stimuli as well as functioning as establishing operations. Understanding developmental brain dysfunction can shed light on the reasons individuals with specific disabilities behave as they do and suggest behavioral intervention strategies. Developmental neuroplasticity affords the opportunity to promote synapse formation in brain structures lacking sufficient connectivity, preventing further neuronal loss through cell pruning. Behavioral assessment tools (e.g. ABLLS) can be used in conjunction with knowledge of which structures play a role in specific cognitive and behavioral functions to inform intervention strategies. The role of genes mediating neurochemical abnormalities associated with specific disabilities (e.g. autism, Prader Willi syndrome) will illustrate the relation between genes, neurochemistry and behavior analysis.




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