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.


35th Annual Convention; Phoenix, AZ; 2009

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #42
CE Offered: PSY/BACB
The Bigger Picture from Infancy to Evolution: Genes, Development, and Behavior Analysis
Saturday, May 23, 2009
2:00 PM–3:20 PM
West 301 AB
Area: DEV/TPC; Domain: Experimental Analysis
Chair: Martha Pelaez (Florida International University)
Discussant: Susan M. Schneider (Florida International University)
CE Instructor: Jeannie Golden, Ph.D.
Abstract: In evolution's indelicate dance, behavior leads as well as follows genetic change--and infancy is an individual and theoretical proving ground tougher than Dancing with the Stars. What with rapid physical, behavioral, emotional, sexual, and social development, hormonal and neurophysiological changes, genetic differences, immediate early genes being turned on and off, and learning's accelerating trajectory, the scientific challenges can present a blooming, buzzing confusion. Further, it's easy to show that both behavior and biology stem from the pas de deux of 100% genes and 100% environment; we can "can" the simplistic square dance in favor of the higher exponentials. So where do operant learning and classical conditioning fit in? Pioneering behavior analysts showed how operant contingencies help shape infant babbling and language acquisition, songbird song learning, and filial imprinting, to name a few examples. That was just the beginning. As for evolutionary beginnings, even Darwin and Lamarck recognized the driving power of behavior change, one of the ultimate engines of diversity. The symposium participants will spell out the choreography, with a focus on illuminating the starring role behavior analysis can play in the next frontier of nature & nurture.
"The Trilling Wire in the Blood…”: What Can We Mean by Nature and Nurture in the First Place?
PAUL THOMAS ANDRONIS (Northern Michigan University)
Abstract: Nature/nurture debates typically focus on the extent to which the behavior of organisms is best accounted for by the phylogenetically determined innate physiology and anatomy of the organisms themselves, or by proximal formative processes of nurture. Disputes arise because some behavior seems to be a rather direct result of physical architecture (behavior called “instinct”), and not the result of historical processes during the individual organisms’ lifetimes (behavior described as “learned”). Aristotle argued for the priority of final (teleological) causes, presaging Darwin’s selection by consequences. My paper argues that this may in fact be an adequate resolution for the nature/nurture question, particularly when we extend the selection metaphor from evolutionary theory to operants and proximal behavioral histories. The rich variety of behavior in nature suggests that we abandon overarching statements about causes of behavior and examine the particulars. The behavior analytic approach should integrate what we have learned from biology with our hard-fought knowledge of how the environment contributes to behavior under complex historical conditions. Examples from nonhuman animals in their natural ecologies, as well as humans enthralled in cultural contingencies, reveal the usefulness of this approach.
On Heritability and Inheritability: How Behavior Contributes to Genetic Expression
DAVID S. MOORE (Pitzer College and Claremont Graduate University)
Abstract: Behavior geneticists have traditionally sought evidence that genes contribute to behavior, whereas behavior analysts have traditionally sought to understand behavior's more proximal causes. Now, decades after advocates of a systems view of development began arguing that insight into the origins of behavioral characteristics would require an understanding of how genes and non-genetic factors interact during development, studies have demonstrated that epigenetic mechanisms allow some behaviors to influence genetic expression. Indeed, genes and behavior influence each other bidirectionally. In contrast to traits that behavior geneticists have found to be heritable, epigenetic characteristics are genuinely inheritable (i.e., passed from generation to generation); thus, behaviors produced in one generation can influence genetic activity in subsequent generations, influencing descendants' behaviors, as well. Remarkably, studies combining the methods of behavior analysis and molecular biology have produced results consistent with the predictions of developmental systems theorists. This talk will critically analyze behavior geneticists' heritability statistic (which doesn't really mean what it sounds like it means), present data on how parental behaviors can influence genetic expression in offspring, and consider the implications of these findings for our understanding of evolution.
Sex Differences in Development: Contributions from Inherited Experiential Resources
CELIA L. MOORE (University of Massachusetts Boston)
Abstract: Development is a constructive process that requires enduring, multi-leveled connections among the heterogeneous elements that constitute nature and nurture. Developmental systems theorists have the data to show that explanations of species-typical outcomes can be found without invoking endpoints (e.g., genetic plans) that preexist in the initial state. An expanded view of inheritance that includes heterogeneous resources--including learning and other forms of experience--is a key part of such explanations. Sex differences in behavior provide opportunities to examine the processes that lead to divergent endpoints in organisms with few or no genetic differences at conception. (Sex is not always determined genetically.) Over the past three decades, researchers have identified quite a diverse array of contributors to reliably divergent developmental pathways. Some contributors arise from endogenous processes in the developing organism (e.g., nerve-muscle interactions and biased sensory innervation in the pudendal system) and some are generated by the mother as a ubiquitous part of the early environment of her offspring. For example, tactile stimulation from licking and grooming in rats is reliably present and reliably different for the two sexes--and turns out to entail operant involvement. Small differences in the availability of resources may be magnified in development to produce large differences in developmental outcome.



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