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.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #219
CE Offered: BACB
Applications to Research and Practice: Skinner’s Pragmatic Philosophy of Science
Sunday, May 26, 2019
9:00 AM–10:50 AM
Swissôtel, Lucerne Ballroom Level, Lucerne 1/2
Area: PCH/TBA; Domain: Theory
Chair: Guy S. Bruce (Appealing Solutions, LLC)
Discussant: Aubrey C. Daniels (Aubrey Daniels International, Inc.)
CE Instructor: Guy S. Bruce, Ed.D.

The last several years I have taught a workshop for board certified behavior analysts on the application of behavior analysis to improve organizational performance so that clients can achieve efficient progress. The workshop always begins with a discussion of Skinner’s pragmatic philosophy of science and its applications to research and practice. I ask participants if they can define pragmatism and if they have read any of Skinner’s writings that illustrate his pragmatic approach. Usually no hands are raised. Hence I have invited the presenters to discuss Skinner’s pragmatic philosophy of science, “Radical Behaviorism,” and its applications to behavior analysis research and practice. What role did Skinner’s pragmatism play in the discovery of more useful explanations of behavior and procedures for producing behavior change? How does a pragmatic approach differ from other approaches to research and practice? What might be the consequences for the future of behavior analysis if practitioners abandon Skinner’s pragmatism?

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): Performance Engineering, Pragmatism, Radical Behaviorism, Scientific Method
Target Audience:

Researchers who prefer more useful explanations and practitioners who prefer more effective procedures will find this symposium useful in achieving their goals.

Skinner’s Pragmatism: A Preference for the Most Useful Explanations and Procedures
GUY S. BRUCE (Appealing Solutions, LLC)
Abstract: B. F. Skinner, in his article, Case Study in Scientific Method (1972), described a very different approach to the scientific study of behavior. It was pragmatic not dogmatic. He 1) asked questions instead of stated hypotheses; 2) studied the changes in the behavior of the individual, not the average of a group of individuals; 3) used sensitive and accurate measures of behavior change such as the response rate; 4) systematically changed one independent variable at a time, while holding constant all others, with the goal of discovering orderly processes of behavior change; 5) looked for practically significant changes in an individual’s behavior that were functionally related to changes in environmental variables, relying on a standard graphic display to evaluate whether the changes in behavior were practically significant; and 6) repeated his experiment with the same and then different subjects to assess the generality of the processes he discovered. Skinner’s pragmatic approach has been extremely fruitful, leading to more effective and efficient explanations and procedures for helping clients make useful changes in their behavior. Now it’s time to apply his pragmatic approach to pragmatic-based research, so that our clients can more efficiently achieve their behavior change goals.

Straying From Skinner’s Pragmatic Approach: Threats to Behavior Analysis and ABAI

HENRY D. SCHLINGER (California State University, LA)

Several recent developments that have grown out of behavior analysis have, to varying degrees, strayed from Skinner’s pragmatic approach to the study of behavior and, therefore, threaten the scientific and theoretical framework of behavior analysis and, by extension, the Association for Behavior Analysis International. They are delayed discounting, relational frame theory (RFT)/acceptance and commitment theory (ACT), positive behavior support (PBS), and the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB). Each, in my opinion, has contributed to the erosion of the basic scientific foundation upon which behavior analysis is built. The combined effect is, to paraphrase B. F. Skinner by way of Mike Perone, the “circumvention of an operant analysis,” moving our discipline from being largely analytic to one that is increasingly descriptive and technological. One conclusion that can be drawn from this dramatic change is that those of us who consider ourselves true behavior analysts, that is, those who actually analyze behavior—not certified behavior analysts or behavior scientists—now possibly find ourselves in the minority. My point in this talk is that straying from Skinner’s pragmatic approach and the experimental and theoretical foundations of behavior analysis will dilute our science and, ultimately, our discipline.


Behavior Analytic Pragmatism in Research and Practice

JAY MOORE (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

Pragmatic considerations tend not to be uniformly well understood in behavior analytic research and practice. According to pragmatism, the value of an analytical or explanatory statement is found in its practical implications in the world of human affairs, rather than in some claim that it represents a metaphysical truth or reality. In this regard, the contemplative forms of science, such as the development of equations and models, are sometimes distinguished from the technological, such as interventions aimed at prediction and control. This presentation argues that these forms are more usefully understood as continuous than dichotomous. Equations and models are presumably derived from prior efforts to predict and control. These forms are valuable because of the further opportunities for prediction and control that they occasion, rather than any claims they represent laws of nature. In the applied arena, treatment fidelity and effect size surely seek to highlight pragmatic considerations for interventions. However, the complexity of clients’ histories and the setting sometimes makes the practical contribution of an intervention difficult to assess, especially when the intervention is balanced against ethical considerations. Throughout, the value of scientific statements in behavior analysis lies in the identification of the participating factors in contingencies.

Skinner's Radical Behaviorism: Characteristics and Applications for the Continuing Development of Behavior Analysis
SAM LEIGLAND (Gonzaga University)
Abstract: Skinner's pragmatic, systematic and comprehensive approach to science, radical behaviorism, is the scientific foundation of the field of behavior analysis. The interactive development of the experimental analysis of behavior as a research field and radical behaviorism as a system of science has produced a scientific field of unparalleled effectiveness and scope. Examples of behavior-analytic research will be presented which illustrate the range of themes explored empirically and through radical behaviorist interpretation of empirical research from other fields. Examples include programs of research within the field of behavior analysis, the role of private events in a comprehensive analysis of behavior, the functional analysis of philosophical terms, the radical behaviorist interpretation of research findings from fields such as language development, and basic and applied work on verbal behavior, including processes of complex derived stimulus functions such as stimulus equivalence and relational frames. Such examples illustrate the central importance of Skinner's pragmatism in his science of behavior; the perspective favors uselfullness over "theoretical" goals. Further, radical behaviorism may itself be viewed as area of research in behavior analysis, joining the basic, applied and clinical areas of behavior analysis.



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