Association for Behavior Analysis International

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2012 Theory and Philosophy Conference

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #4
CE Offered: PSY/BACB
Logical and Scientific Verbal Behavior: What's Happened to Skinner's "Empirical Epistemology"?
Saturday, November 3, 2012
3:30 PM–6:00 PM
Zuni Ballroom
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Discussant: Timothy D. Hackenberg (Reed College)
CE Instructor: Timothy D. Hackenberg, Ph.D.

Logical and Scientific Verbal Behavior: What's Happened to Skinner's "Empirical Epistemology"?


A Functional Analysis of Psychological Terms Redux

HENRY D. SCHLINGER (California State University, Los Angeles)

In his seminal paper, "An Operational Analysis of Psychological Terms," B. F. Skinner (1945) offered the revolutionary suggestion that rather than endlessly debating the meanings of psychological terms, psychologists should analyze the variables controlling their occurrence. Skinner's suggestion reflected the essence of his 1957 book, Verbal Behavior, wherein he argued that the behaviors of which language is composed (i.e., speaking and listening) are caused by variables found in the social environment (which he called the verbal community), and that analyzing those variables would lead to understanding the behaviors. Although Skinner formally introduced his radical approach to language in 1945, it has yet to be fully realized. The result is that psychologists, including behavior analysts, still debate the definitions of terms. In the present paper, Dr. Schlinger will review Skinner's functional approach to language and describe ways in which behavior analysts have already applied it to such traditional psychological terms as memory, cognition, intelligence, perception, imagining, and consciousness. He will conclude by encouraging psychologists as well as behavior analysts to apply a functional analytic approach to their own verbal behavior.

Henry D. "Hank" Schlinger Jr. received his Ph.D. in psychology (applied behavior analysis) from Western Michigan University with Jack Michael. He then completed a 2-year National Institutes of Health-funded postdoctoral fellowship in behavioral pharmacology with Alan Poling. He was a full tenured professor of psychology at Western New England University in Springfield, MA, before moving to Los Angeles in 1998. He is now an associate professor of psychology and director of the MS program in applied behavior analysis in the Department of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Schlinger has published 60 scientific articles and commentaries in more than 20 journals. He also has authored or co-authored three books, Psychology: A Behavioral Overview, A Behavior-Analytic View of Child Development (which was translated into Japanese), and Introduction to Scientific Psychology. He is a past editor of The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, current editor of The Behavior Analyst, and on the editorial boards of several other journals. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. He lives with his wife, a writer and editor, and their 2-year-old son in the quiet, serene hills of Burbank, CA, just a stone's throw from Disney Hall.

A Behavioral Interpretation of Knowledge

DAVID C. PALMER (Smith College)

Nature has stumbled on the power of permutations in several domains, such as the composition of molecules, the codifying of genes, and the synthesis of proteins. Human behavior is distinctive in that verbal behavior facilitates "directed permutations" of elementary behavioral units analogous to the stringing together of amino acids under the control of RNA codons. The tacting of behavioral atoms following reinforcement, in the presence of an audience with a suitable atomic repertoire, permits the rapid transmission of adaptive behavior throughout a verbal community, and short-circuits the alternative process of shaping. In contrast, problem solving entails the marshaling of supplementary stimuli to generate novel permutations in behavior, only some of which might be captured by contingencies of reinforcement. When reinforced, behavior becomes the source of directed permutations. Such variation, in the first instance, is always blind, but it can become directed variation, as when "strategies" are explicitly inculcated. Knowledge, then, always arises from chance variation, possibly during long periods of time and highly uncertain of success, but once successful becomes rapidly transmitted as directed permutations of behavior. However, in the latter case, we ordinarily speak of "knowledge" only when control of the behavior has transferred to other variables.

Dave Palmer discovered B. F. Skinner by reading Walden Two while on a cave-exploring trip to North Carolina because he thought it must have had something to do with his hero, Henry David Thoreau. He spent the next decade on a soap box preaching about Walden Two and reading the rest of the Skinner canon. Eventually, he realized he was no Frazier, and he applied to graduate school in behavior analysis studying under John Donahoe. He was happy in grad school and would be there still if the University of Massachusetts had not threatened to change the locks. He spent the past 21 years as the token behaviorist at Smith College in Northampton, MA. During that time, he co-authored, with Donahoe, Learning and Complex Behavior. He continues to puzzle about the interpretation of memory, problem-solving, and—particularly—verbal behavior. He once referred to himself—in a jocular vein—as a goose-stepping Skinnerian, but he found that the label fit and now wears it without apology.



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