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.


47th Annual Convention; Online; 2021

All times listed are Eastern time (GMT-4 at the time of the convention in May).

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #386
CE Offered: BACB
Developing a Behavioural Account of Consciousness
Monday, May 31, 2021
10:00 AM–10:50 AM
Area: PCH; Domain: Theory
Chair: David C. Palmer (Smith College)
CE Instructor: David C. Palmer, Ph.D.
Presenting Author: JULIAN LESLIE (Ulster University)

In an earlier paper (European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 2015, 16, 147-162), I argued that the grounds on which Watson rejected introspection as the means to understand consciousness were correct, that cognitive psychology rejected behaviourism for other reasons, and that the developments in monitoring brain activity have led to a very unsuccessful search for the neural basis of consciousness. In contrast, there is much evidence that behaviour does not necessarily require conscious awareness, but nevertheless philosophers and cognitivists seek to show that qualia exist and do have a causal role. Behaviour analysis can address some problems of the cognitive approach, beginning with an account of self-awareness. However, the behaviour-analytic account of consciousness requires experimental analysis. Where we have been most successful in applied behaviour analysis, we have learnt three major lessons: (1) Behaviour classes need to be refined and defined; (2) antecedents can be hard to specify, but must be identified for behaviour analysis; (3) Consequences are critical, but may be unexpected. While experimental studies from other areas of behaviour analysis are sparse, researchers in relational frame theory have examined the concept of self conceptually and through experimental studies of perspective taking. Some of their contributions to the behavioural study of consciousness will be reviewed. Finally, the similarities between the behaviour-analytic account of consciousness and those of other non-cognitive ones, including ecological psychology, will be pointed out.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience: All behaviour analysts who wish to talk to those outside the field about consciousness, one of the topics that everyone is interested in.
Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) discuss how consciousness featured in the development of behaviorism; (2) conduct an antecedent-behavior- consequence analysis of behavior described as conscious; (3) discuss the developing study of self within the RFT and contextual behavioral science literature.
JULIAN LESLIE (Ulster University)

Julian Leslie obtained a doctorate from Oxford University in 1974 and since has been in academic posts in Northern Ireland and a full professor since 1986. He published textbooks on behaviour analysis between 1979 and 2002 and these remain in print. Publications have been in fields including, experimental analysis of behaviour, applied behaviour analysis, psychopharmacology, behavioural neuroscience, experimental psychology, and applied psychology, and he has supervised PhD students in all these areas. Since 2015, he has spoken and published a series of papers on conceptual issues in behaviour analysis including behavioural accounts of consciousness and the metaphysical basis of behaviour analysis. He is a Fellow of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, and in 2020 received  the SABA Award for International Dissemination of Behavior Analysis.




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