Successful avoidance behavior poses a puzzle known as the “avoidance paradox.” Consider the paradigm case of a rat pressing a lever to postpone electric shocks on a free-operant schedule. At steady-state when responding is proficient, there is no apparent aversive stimulus in the environment before the rat presses the lever, and there is no apparent change in the environment after the rat presses the lever. What reinforces the response? Motivated by this question, studies of avoidance and related phenomena have created a rich source of information about situations in which the factors controlling behavior are obscure—for example, when the consequences of behavior are delayed, or distributed diffusely in time, or cumulative. The president will review recent findings that illustrate how experiments on avoidance, and aversive control more generally, contribute to the analysis of situations in which the controlling factors are elusive. These are the very situations that behavior analysts must understand if we are to help prevent diseases of lifestyle (e.g., obesity, heart disease, cancer) and promote healthy behavior (e.g., exercise and proper nutrition).
Review Michael Perone’s biographical statement.