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 #547
Understanding Mental Health as a Function of the Relative Fitness of Verbal Behavior
Monday, May 27, 2019
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Swissôtel, Lucerne Ballroom Level, Lucerne 1/2
Area: PCH/VRB; Domain: Theory
Chair: Mariana De Los Santos (Bloom Children's Center)
CE Instructor: L L Mason, Ph.D.

The term “mental health” is often used as a mentalistic explanation for aberrant behavior. Individuals who engage in temporally extended patterns of atypical behavior are considered to have a mental health disorder. But where in the body does mental health exist? Of what material is mental health made? And how could mental health, or impairments thereof, cause behavior? The behavior analytic literature has a long record of addressing psychiatric and psychological illnesses. However, the origins of such behavioral patterns still need further explaining, as a better understanding of mental health issues may lead to more efficacious treatments. Here we analyze mental health disorders as a function of the relative fitness of the elementary verbal operants. Using an evolutionary framework, we extend a model of stimulus control proportionality described by Mason and Andrews (2018) to analyze mental health as an issue of disproportionate stimulus control over verbal behavior. Implications for research and practices are discussed.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): mental health, proportionality, relative fitness, Stimulus control
Target Audience:

BCBAs and Psychologists

Learning Objectives: By the end of the session, participants will be able to: - describe "mental health" as a disorder of stimulus control over verbal behavior - identify examples of response prepotency - discuss verbal behavior in terms of response populations
Two Types of Verbal Behavior and a Pseudotype
L L MASON (Univ of Texas at San Antonio)
Abstract: The convergence of the organism’s genetic endowment, history of reinforcement, and present context serve as the locus of control over behavior. Over the lifetime of the organism, history is used to describe the population of responses that have led to the present form, which is further susceptible to refinement through contingency shaping. Just as mechanical behavior is selected by the relative ecological fitness of the environment, verbal behavior is also susceptible to relegation by context. Undoubtedly, verbal behavior is governed by ontogenic contingency shaping. However, here we present a phylogenetic framework for functionally analyzing verbal behavior, and argue that the relative fitness of one verbal operant is determined in part by the liminal intensity of other verbal operants. Analogous to competition between individual and group selection in biological evolution, verbal behavior that benefits the individual (i.e., mands) are in competition with verbal behavior that benefits the group (i.e., tacts). A functional speaking repertoire is premised upon the behavioral evolution of each verbal operant in proportionate strength to one another to serve as a measure of relative fitness. Accordingly, verbal behavior functions to extend the speaker’s control over the physical environment across geographically and temporally extended reinforcement relations.

The Verbal Operational Analyses of Psychiatric Symptoms of Individuals With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

ALONZO ALFREDO ANDREWS (The University of Texas at San Antonio)

Notwithstanding the utility of the Reiss Screen for Maladaptive Behaviors (RSMB) and the Diagnostic Manual- Intellectual Disability (DM-ID) 2, identifying contributing psychiatric factors for the purpose of providing residential and outpatient services for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) with challenging behavior can be ineffective. While biomedical treatments generally represent primary interventions, this can be at the expense of adaptive functioning and quality of life for this population, particularly when the sedating side effects of some psychotropic medications can potentially further suppress the performance and learning of individuals with IDD. The efficacy of operant conditioning to address psychotic behavior has long since been demonstrated; the analysis of the verbal behavior of psychiatric patients initiated in the 1950s; the investigation of behavioral mechanisms of psychopathology commenced. Relevant to IDD, it is often difficult to determine if challenging behaviors are psychiatric symptoms since diagnosing mental disorder in patients with IDD can be the direct result of deficits of verbal behavior, i.e., mands, tacts, and intraverbal, as well as listener responding. Verbal operant analyses can be particularly significant for the development of behavioral interventions addressing the behavior challenges of individuals with IDD.


Identifying Verbal Behavior Patterns Through Programmatic Language Analysis


This study provides an initial examination of programmatic language analysis tools in identifying patterns of language usage related to the discussion of autism (cf. De Smedt & Daelemans, 2012). Using publicly available data, researchers identified words commonly collocated in discussion of autism, ‘sentiment’ frequency (or 'emotional valence' e.g. Critchfield, Becirevic, & Reed, 2017), and programmatically identifiable relational frames ( This exploratory study highlights the potential of modern programmatic methods including natural language processing and data visualization for exploring, identifying, and discussing various trends in the verbal behavior surrounding autism and other communicative disorders. This presentation will provide a quick walkthrough of the automated datamining, data cleaning, and data parsing process. Then the automated analyses methodology will be briefly explained with a discussion of locating and utilizing the software tool chain. Findings will be presented with a focused discussion on implications for future research. The presentation will conclude with a next step analysis of how these modern methods will be used to quantify and expand the SCoRE framework (Mason & Andrews, 2018) for categorization of other verbal behavior disorders.




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