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.


31st Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2005

Event Details

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Symposium #375
Int'l Symposium - Philosophical Foundations of Behavior Science: The Psychological Unit of Analysis and Related Concepts
Monday, May 30, 2005
2:30 PM–3:50 PM
Astoria (3rd floor)
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Jonathan J. Tarbox (University of Nevada, Reno)
Discussant: Michelle Ennis Soreth (Temple University)
Abstract: Any body of work in science rests on its own collection of philosophical assumptions. When such assumptions are not thoroughly analyzed and organized into a coherent system, confusion and unnecessary complication at all levels of analysis within the field often result. Such appears to be the case in the field of behavior analysis today. This symposium includes three papers and a discussion on various issues pertaining to the basic assumptions that comprise the foundation of behavior analytic work, including the unit of analysis in psychology and related concepts.
The Molar-Molecular Debate and the Role of the Scientific Verbal Community Within Behavior Analysis
THOMAS J. WALTZ (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: Molar and molecular approaches to the experimental analysis of behavior are disputing over how to best characterize the unit of analysis. Each approach holds its own unit as fundamental. This paper will show how adherence to a fundamental unit of analysis disregards the pragmatism of Radical Behaviorism. The role the scientific verbal community plays in determining appropriate units of analysis will also be discussed.
On Cause, Effect, and Function in Behavior Science
JONATHAN J. TARBOX (University of Nevada, Reno), Linda J. Parrott Hayes (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: B.F. Skinner conceptualized the subject matter of psychology as a dichotomy between the behavior of whole organisms and the environmental events which cause them. The work of the science of behavior was conceptualized as the discovery of lawful functional relations between behavior and environment. Skinner explicitly conceptualized such relations as cause and effect relations, where an organism’s behavior is the effect of the environmental events which the organism contacted in its history. This basic philosophical position on behavior analytic subject matter largely persists today. Other psychologists (e.g., J. R. Kantor) and work in other sciences (e.g., complexity) take other positions on the nature of the relations between the events which comprise their subject matter. The interbehavioral perspective posits an interactional multiplicity of factors (including responding and stimulating) as the subject matter of psychology, where each factor is a mutually interdependent, and notions of cause and effect are therefore irrelevant. The core difference between these perspectives is the nature of the relation between the various factors which comprise a psychological event. This relation is termed “functional” in both systems, but the concept has very different meanings in each. The current paper will contrast the two perspectives and will relate both to more recent perspectives on function from other natural sciences. Implications for work in behavior analysis will be discussed as will implications for interdisciplinary collaboration with other sciences.
Discovering Ernst Mach’s Footprints in B. F. Skinner’s and J. J. Gibson’s Works
CLAUDIA CARDINAL (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: B.F. Skinner (1979) acknowledged the influence of Ernst Mach’s (1938-1916) The Science of Mechanics on Skinner’s development of the operant as the unit of analysis. Gibson (1950) adopted Mach’s illustration of the visual field, first published in the Analysis of Sensations. This paper will demonstrate how Mach’s work affected Skinner’s and Gibson’s non-mediational theorizing beyond these explicit references. Citations from Mach’s work will illustrate parallels to Skinner’s conceptualization of the scientist’s behavior and to Gibson’s rejection of the traditional distinction between exteroception and proprioception as separate channels of sensation.



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