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.


36th Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2010

Event Details

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Symposium #264
CE Offered: BACB
A Behavior Analysis of Language: Are Our Conceptual Tools Sufficient?
Sunday, May 30, 2010
3:00 PM–4:20 PM
214C (CC)
Area: VRB/TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Matthew P. Normand (University of the Pacific)
Discussant: Michael J. Dougher (University of New Mexico)
CE Instructor: Simon Dymond, Ph.D.
Abstract: The common theme of the papers in this symposium is the degree to which our longstanding conceptual tools are sufficient to enable us to understand a complex behavioral phenomenon of great interest: language. The first two papers, by Normand and Moore, consider some criticisms of Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior and some alternative analyses offered as improvements thereon. The third paper, by Schlinger, suggests that we reconsider some of our longstanding analyses with respect to rule-governed behavior and simplify (clarify) matters by treating the subject as what it really is: behavior that is to be understood in terms of its function.
Much Ado About Nothing: Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior
MATTHEW P. NORMAND (University of the Pacific)
Abstract: Some have suggested that the definition of verbal behavior offered by B. F. Skinner fails to capture the essence of language insofar as it is too broad and not functional. In this presentation I will argue that the ambiguities of Skinner’s definition are not an indictment of it and suggestions to the contrary are problematic because they suffer a critical error of scientific reasoning. Some also have suggested that Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior is entirely conceptual and therefore in need of experimental evidence to support it. I will argue that Skinner’s taxonomy is a thoroughgoing analysis of the types of stimulus control that can develop over units of “verbal” behavior and is therefore supported by decades of basic behavioral research. However, one might reasonably question whether Skinner’s analysis captures all of the phenomena comprising language. I will discuss the potential implications of this question and argue that it does not undermine Skinner’s analysis but rather it suggests that more work of a similar type might be necessary.
Some Thoughts on the Relation Between Derived Relational Responding and Verbal Behavior
JAY MOORE (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Abstract: This presentation critically examines the bold claims of relational frame theory (RFT) advocates that RFT is a comprehensive approach to the phenomena referred to in traditional parlance as language and cognition, and is manifestly preferable in both scope and detail to that found in B. F. Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior. Although some data do indicate a high positive correlation between derived relational responding and verbal behavior, in keeping with RFT, other data indicate at best a low correlation. The reasons for the differences between expected and actual correlations across the several data sets are not clear. We conclude that despite the value of RFT, the nature and causes of derived relational responding, as well as the relation between derived relational responding and verbal behavior more generally, remain an important area of investigation.
New Rule: Abandon the Terminology of Rules and Rule-Governed Behavior
HENRY D. SCHLINGER (California State University, Los Angeles)
Abstract: Ever since Skinner imported the concept of rule-governed behavior, behavior analysts, including the present author, have debated the nature and function of rules with little or no consensus. Confusion over the terminology of rules and rule-governed behavior has mired behavior analysts in the same trap as other disciplines we have criticized for a lack of clarity in their terminology. We must remember, however, that rules are only what we call them. Therefore, because the terms “rules” and “rule-governed behavior” are controlled by so many different variables in our verbal community, I now believe that we should abandon this terminology. To wit, in the present paper, I briefly describe the history of the concept of rule-governed behavior in behavior analysis and then point out some of the different locutions derived from that concept (e.g., “rule,” “rule-governed behavior,” “obeying a rule,” “following a rule,” etc.). Finally, I suggest that because behavior analysts have not agreed on the use of these terms, we dispense with them (the terms, not the behavior analysts) altogether and simply identify behavioral events by their functions.



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