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.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

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Symposium #247
CE Offered: BACB
Roots of Behavior Analysis and the Road Not Taken
Monday, May 30, 2016
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
Alpine, Swissotel
Area: TPC/EAB; Domain: Translational
Chair: Sigrid S. Glenn (University of North Texas)
CE Instructor: Travis Thompson, Ph.D.
Abstract: Basic and applied behavior analysts often wonder how it happened that the field adopted one or another strategy and rejected others. Why do we hold some theoretical assumptions early with great tenacity without giving them much thought in our daily pursuits, but are reluctant to let them go, nonetheless. We treat some as fundamentally important, without considering where they came from, and asking whether they may possibly be misguided shiboleths. Understanding how those positions came to be, is fundamentally important in our decisions about the field's future. Which traditions and associated assumptions do we believe are essential to the corpus of the meaning of behavior analysis, and which are ephiphenomenal. This symposium examines those questions beginning with late 19th century physiology and early 20th century behaviorism. The speakers, all well known in their fields, examine what might have happened had the field led by young Fred Skinner taken a different road at the fork in the 1930s, and pursued one guided more by his physiology mentors, Crozier and Henderson.
Keyword(s): behaviorism, philosophy, physiology, theory
Conceptions of Behavior From Dewey to Skinner
JAY MOORE (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)
Abstract: This presentation reviews historical conceptions of behavior beginning with John Dewey's (1896) "The concept of the reflex in the description of behavior" and extending to Skinner's conception of operant behavior. Dewey argued that psychologists needed to take how reflex mechanisms contributed to the adaptation of an organism to its environment. Classical S-R behaviorism, such as found in Watson (1913), sought to be objective by rendering temporally extended sequences of behavior in terms of concatenated chains of S-R reflexes. E. B. Holt (1914) argued that classical behaviorism ignored that behavior was organized around achieving some terminal outcome. E. C. Tolman (1932), Holt's student in the Harvard Department, took Holt's message to heart and argued for a purposive orientation to behavior and a molar, rather than molecular level of analysis. However, Tolman continued the sense of antecedent causation that others had begun, inserting various intervening variables between stimulus and response in an effort to account for the richness and flexibility of behavior. B. F. Skinner, also a graduate of the Harvard Department, formally distinguished between respondent and operant processes. Respondent processes did indeed entail antecedent causation. In contrast, operant processes entailed selection by consequences. Intervening variables played no role in either case.
John B. Watson's Influence on B. F. Skinner: Science, Philosophy, and Behavioral Interpretations
EDWARD K. MORRIS (The University of Kansas)
Abstract: In Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, John B. Watson (1913) founded classical behaviorism as a system of psychology. In The Behavior of Organisms, B. F. Skinner (1936) founded a science of behavior and, nine years later, its philosophy radical behaviorism (Skinner, 1945). To date, the influence of Skinner’s predecessors in science and philosophy (e.g., Pavlov, Loeb, Bacon, Mach) on his science and philosophy is well documented, whereas the influence of Skinner’s predecessor in behaviorism (Watson) is not. Based on a systematic review of Skinner’s published works and citation practices, as well as relevant secondary and tertiary literatures, this presentation addresses Watson’s influence on Skinner. Specifically, it integrates a history of Watson’s influence with Watson’s influence on Skinner’s science (e.g., subject matter, research methods), philosophy (e.g., behaviorism, positivism), and behavioral interpretations (e.g., verbal behavior, emotion, private events), that is, collectively, on Skinner’s system. These findings are discussed in the context of Watson’s influence on Skinner relative to (a) Skinner’s predecessors in science and philosophy, (b) what might be surmised from the behavior-analytic literature, and (c) what is related in the secondary and tertiary literatures.
An Alternative History of Behavior Analysis Evolving From Crozier and Henderson's Influence
(Service Delivery)
TRAVIS THOMPSON (University of Minnesota)
Abstract: Inspired by Harry Turtledove and H. G. Wells this presentation will discuss what might have happened had B. F. Skinner remained strongly influenced by his primary Harvard physiologist mentors, William J. Crozier and Lawrence J. Henderson. Skinners primary mentor, W. J. Crozier had two strengths; the first was strategies for investigating organ systems influencing important behavior of the whole organism. Crozier was especially interested in vision and discriminative behavior; his reasoning was guided by Darwinian premises, similar to later ethologists, namely that behavioral dispositions should be consistent with evolutionary function. His second strength was his canny, highly technical device-building skills, which he passed on to Skinner. Crozier designed and fabricated remarkable devices to solve complex behavioral measurement problems, such as invertebrate visual discriminations. Lawrence Henderson was both a molecular and a molar theoretical physiologist. He was especially interested in understanding how molecular variables and components, like blood cells, could be used to elucidate how groups of individual components functioned together to produce social actions. He created a Harvard discussion group of faculty members devoted to the Italian sociologist, Pareto. Hendersons nomogram for expressing relations among gases was influenced by Paretos chart from sociology and groups of people. This presentation will explore what might have occurred had Skinner more strongly pursued collaborations with these two important figures in early 20th century general physiology.



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