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.


46th Annual Convention; Washington DC; 2020

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #552
There’s a Time and a Place for Everything
Monday, May 25, 2020
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Level M2, Marquis Ballroom 6
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Karen M. Lionello-DeNolf (Assumption College)
CE Instructor: Sarah Cowie, Ph.D.
Presenting Author: SARAH COWIE (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Abstract: When the environment around us changes with regularity, certain events come to predict others; the sign at the café tells me coffee will be forthcoming, whereas the line of people outside the café suggests coffee will not occur in the immediate future. These signpost events come to exert control over behavior, at least when they point to currently important events: In the morning, we follow signposts to coffee, but at dinnertime, we follow signposts to food. In a complex world, signposts are crucial for adaptation to our environment, and for choice of a future that might contain maximal pleasure and minimal pain—that is, signposts help us to behave appropriately. Yet some signposts fail to control our behavior, even when they predict favorable future conditions more reliably than do other signposts. Why do some events come to exert stimulus control over behavior, while others do not? This talk explores basic research that highlights the importance of experience, affordances—the ability to discriminate order, time, and location—and dispositions—the wants and needs of the organism that may be satisfied by the environment—in the development of effective signposts. We discuss how imperfect discrimination causes signposts lose predictive power, and exert weaker control over behavior. Finally, we turn to misbehavior and bad habits, and consider how these basic research findings might help us to understand—and perhaps even change—apparently surprising, sometimes maladaptive control by signposts in the natural world.
Instruction Level: Basic
Target Audience:

Basic and applied behavior analysts with an interest in stimulus control.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) discuss the impact of discrimination and generalization processes and the degree to which current environmental events exert stimulus control over behavior; (2) discuss hypotheses about how phylogenetic and personal history determine the degree to which stimuli exert control over behavior; (3) understand how the likely future, as extrapolated from the past, determines the division of control among signposts.
SARAH COWIE (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Sarah Cowie obtained her Ph.D. in 2014 at the University of Auckland, under the supervision of Professor Michael Davison and Professor Doug Elliffe. Sarah’s research explores how our behavior depends on past, present, and potential events.



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