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.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

Previous Page


Invited Paper Session #323
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

What Counts as Behavior?

Monday, May 26, 2014
9:00 AM–9:50 AM
W178a (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: EAB; Domain: Theory
Instruction Level: Intermediate
CE Instructor: William M. Baum, Ph.D.
Chair: Federico Sanabria (Arizona State University)
WILLIAM M. BAUM (University of California, Davis)
Dr. William Baum received his BA in psychology from Harvard College in 1961. Originally a biology major, he switched to psychology after taking courses from B. F. Skinner and R. J. Herrnstein in his freshman and sophomore years. He attended Harvard University for graduate study in 1962, where he was supervised by Herrnstein and received his Ph.D. in 1966. He spent the year 1965-66 at Cambridge University, studying ethology at the Sub-Department of Animal Behavior. From 1966 to 1975, he held appointments as post-doctoral fellow, research associate, and assistant professor at Harvard University. He spent two years at the National Institutes of Health Laboratory for Brain, Evolution, and Behavior and then accepted an appointment in psychology at the University of New Hampshire in 1977. He retired from there in 1999. He currently has an appointment as associate researcher at the University of California, Davis, and lives in San Francisco. His research concerns choice, molar behavior/environment relations, foraging, and behaviorism. He is the author of a book, Understanding Behaviorism: Behavior, Culture, and Evolution.

A final definition is impossible, but we can rule out some possibilities and propose others based on what we currently know. Behavior is not simply movement, but must be defined by its function. Also, our understanding of behavior must agree with evolutionary theory.Dr. Baum willsuggest four basic principles: (1) Only whole organisms behave; (2) Behavior is purposive; (3) Behavior takes time; and (4) Behavior is choice. Saying that parts of an organism behave is nonsense, and, moreover, evolutionary theory explains the existence of organisms mainly through their adaptive behavior. Behavior is purposive because it is shaped by its consequences, through an organism’s lifetime or through interactions with the environment across many generations of natural selection. Behavior takes time in that behavior is interaction with the environment which cannot take place at a moment. Moreover, identifying an activity requires a span of time. Behavior is choice in the sense that a suitable span of time always includes time spent in more than one activity. Activities include parts that are themselves activities on a smaller time scale and compete for time. Thus, behavior constitutes time allocation. An accounting problem arises whenever behavior is attributed to multiple consequences. It remains to be solved.

Target Audience:

Experimental and applied behavior analysts interested in how to measure and define behavior.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the event, participants should be able to: -Explain why behavior must be extended in time. -Explain why time allocation is the measure of behavior. -Explain why only whole living organisms behave.
Keyword(s): choice, evolutionary theory, time allocation



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh