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.


43rd Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2017

Event Details

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Symposium #76
Complementarities in the Foundations of Behavior Analysis: Factuals and Counter-Factuals
Saturday, May 27, 2017
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom F/G
Area: PCH/EDC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Edward K. Morris (University of Kansas)

One need not look far in the popular press to find misrepresentations of Skinner and behaviorism (e.g., Lewis, 2015). Indeed, there is a long history of non-behaviorists misarticulating and misrepresenting Skinner, his work, and its implications (MacCorquodale, 1970; Palmer, 2006; Todd & Morris, 1983). However, potentially more problematic, is when behaviorists fail to reexamine implications of Skinner's work with regards to modern technologies and advances in the social sciences outside of the radical behaviorist community. For example, it may benefit behaviorists and non-behaviorists alike to examine behavior-analytic practices using approaches, such as post-modernism (cf. B. F. Skinner, 1964). Consequently, this symposium provides three discussions of complementarities and counter-factuals to the evolution of radical behaviorism (cf. B. F. Skinner, 1963). Namely, building on historical, empirical, and theoretical sources presenters will: 1.) justify and provide strategies for incorporating Foucauldian considerations into behavior-analytic practices, 2.) explain what went wrong with Skinner's teaching machines, and discuss the possible evolution of Skinner's teaching machines in light of modern technologies, and 3.) identify shared congruities between Skinner's (teaching) behaviors and Papert's constructionism (Papert & Harel, 1991) and discuss a potential evolution of constructionist practices informed by radical behaviorism (with implications for current maker and coding initiatives).

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): behaviorism complementarities, constructionist behaviors, post-modernism, Skinner's teaching-machines

Foucauldian Considerations for Behavior Analysis

WILL FLEMING (University of Kansas), Edward K. Morris (University of Kansas)

The experimental analysis of behavior and applied behavior analysis are behavioral practices. As such, they evolve through selection by consequences among internal, interlocked contingencies. They also evolve through selective consequences among external contingencies (e.g., sociocultural practices). Despite the emergence of a field of study (i.e., discourse) on macro- and metacontingencies, the focus of behavior-analytic interpretations of the external contingencies remains relatively narrow, especially when considering practices that indirectly and directly affect behavior-analytic sciences (e.g., normativity). That is, while behavior analysts are developing a language in which they can discuss the evolution of their practices, in part, by the external selection by contingencies, few have done so. Some post-structuralist historians and philosophers have examined localized and globalized practices that affect both external and internal contingencies of science. One such poststructuralist, Michel Foucault (1926-1984), offered a conceptualization of power relations that may be useful in understanding the evolution of behavior-analytic sciences as institutionalized practices, identifying new levels of analysis for studying the internal and external contingencies, and explaining how their practices are interlocked. Namely, strategies for adopting and incorporating Foucauldian considerations into behavior-analytic practices are discussed, as well as the possibilities and limitations of those considerations.

What Teaching Machines Should Have Been: A Counterfactual Analysis
ROGELIO ESCOBAR (National Autonomous University of Mexico)
Abstract: While attending his daughter’s 4th-grade arithmetic class in 1953, Skinner noted that all students had to move at the same pace and, after solving math problems, they did not know immediately whether their responses were right or wrong. Skinner envisioned a technology of teaching based on the principles of response shaping and immediate reinforcement. Following this notion, and inspired by his success with instrumentation, he built a machine that presented the materials to be learned one at a time, and provided feedback immediately. This machine was called a teaching machine. However, although the technology of teaching was based on solid principles of learning, only a few years later, teaching machines were equated to a “disease” by the media and even by those who initially encouraged their use. What went wrong? Why did teaching machines not fulfill their promise? In this counterfactual analysis, the presenter will extrapolate how teaching machines could have been realized if Skinner had had modern technology. Namely, the analysis is focused on explicating what Skinner was trying to accomplish with each step in the design of gradually more complex teaching machines and learning materials, and then hypothesize how new technology could have helped Skinner realize these goals.

B. F. Skinner and Seymour Papert: A Missed Connection

DON DAVIS (The University of Texas at San Antonio)

B. F. Skinner was an avid tinkerer (Skinner, 1979, 1983, 1985) whose bricolage later translated directly to scientific discoveries, such as schedules of reinforcement (Skinner, 1979). Indeed, Skinner found making to be so essential that he required students to handcraft operant conditioning chambers in order to better understand behavior (Skinner, 1979). Such a hands-on approach to learning is, however, not commonly epitomized or proselytized by radical behaviorists. Rather, it is more characteristic of constructionism as outlined by Seymour Papert (e.g., Papert, 1980), a field whose adherents are often not only unfamiliar with but averse to radical behaviorism (Stager, 2015). This turn of events was, however, not inevitable. Namely, Skinner and Papert shared many commonalities and with Skinner at Harvard and Papert at MIT, they could have met. In such case, how might Skinner have informed Paperts work? How might Paperts skills with artificial intelligence, programming, and other technologies have shaped Skinners behavior? Answering these questions through a rigorous examination of the literature will highlight potential affordances of a science of behavior for constructionists and their endeavors (such as the maker initiative). Similarly, constructionist narratives will be used to identify worthwhile pathways for future behavioral research.




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