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.


47th Annual Convention; Online; 2021

All times listed are Eastern time (GMT-4 at the time of the convention in May).

Event Details

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Symposium #229
Emerging Conceptual Underpinnings for Culturo-Behavior Science
Sunday, May 30, 2021
11:00 AM–12:50 PM
Area: CSS/PCH; Domain: Theory
Chair: Mark A. Mattaini (Jane Addams College of Social Work-University of Illinois at Chicago; Behaviorists for Social Responsibility)
Discussant: Ruth Anne Rehfeldt (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Chicago)
CE Instructor: Ruth Anne Rehfeldt, Ph.D.

In elaborating a natural science capable of exploring social behavior and large-scale cultural structures and processes, Skinner (1953) defined culture “as the contingencies of social reinforcement maintained by a group.” Over several decades, Skinner and others expanded on this work. Glenn (1986, 2004) offered, and in collaboration with others subsequently refined the heuristic of the metacontingency for understanding the dynamics of collective behavior. This construct proved particularly helpful in organizational and similar settings in which desired outcomes were relatively specific, and steps required to achieve those outcomes relatively constrained. Contemporary culturo-behavior scientists, however, are gaining the capacity and carry the obligation to contribute to addressing critical social and environmental challenges. Explorations of possible integrations of emergent or revised scientific models have become essential. Included in this symposium are sometimes contrasting examples of such frameworks (e.g., ecosystemic, evolutionary, systems analytic, or return to behavior-centered interventions); discussion of commonalities and distinctions among them; and potential contributions of these perspectives to a transdisciplinary culturo-behavior science powerful enough to contribute to “conditions under which human beings will show the productivity, the creativity, and the strength inherent in their genetic endowment and which are essential to the survival of the species” (Skinner, 1975).

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Culturo-Behavior Science
Target Audience:

Master's level students, BCBAs, other behavioral professionals with graduate degrees.

Learning Objectives: 1) identify the steps of an iterative ecosystems approach for observing, modeling and testing cultural processes; 2) state the contributions of adopting a systems analytic framework in culturo-behavior science and criticisms thereof 3) understand how behavior analysis can contribute to promote changes at social/cultural level by proposing behavior-centered interventions 4) understand how positive feedback dynamics contribute to self-organization in culture-behavioral systems 5) identify the culturant hypercycle as one potential process through which cultural selection occurs
Ecosystemic Cultural Systems Modeling
MARK A. MATTAINI (Jane Addams College of Social Work-University of Illinois at Chicago; Behaviorists for Social Responsibility), Kathryn M. Roose (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: In his efforts to elaborate a natural science capable of exploring social behavior and large-scale cultural processes, Skinner (1953) defined a culture “as the contingencies of social reinforcement maintained by a group.” Over several decades, Skinner and others expanded on this work. Glenn (1986, 2004) with collaborators, outlined and refined an approach for understanding the dynamics of selection at the cultural level, grounded in the heuristic of the metacontingency. The approach has been demonstrably useful in many settings, primarily for achieving specific desired outcomes within tightly constrained environmental contexts. As contemporary culturo-behavior scientists intensified attention to critical social and environmental challenges, however, cultural analytic models drawing on a broader scope of systemic variables within accessible models (Bates, 1950; Wolfram, 2002), have proven essential. In this presentation, the authors outline principles for modeling complex cultural and collective behavior, using an iterative, ecosystemic approach grounded in observation, conceptualization, and testing (Bates). Adequate ecosystemic models draw extensively on systems science (e.g., Mobus & Kalton, 2015), while remaining securely grounded in interlocking contingencies, equivalence relations, and other forms of relational responding as foci for intervention. An analysis of some of the dynamics of police-community relations will be presented as an example (Mattaini & Rehfeldt, 2020).
Back to Basics: For Big Changes, We Need to Rely on Behavioral-Level Interventions
DIEGO ZILIO (Federal University of Espirito Santo )
Abstract: Starting with the distinction between context of understanding and context of intervention, I will argue that culturo-behavior science has flaws in both contexts. The context of understanding relates to the different domains relevant in the process of understanding (and explaining) social/cultural phenomena. Instead of aiming for an interdisciplinary approach, behavior analysis seems to try to “become” part of the other domains. For instance, instead of dialoguing with anthropological theories, behavior analysis tries to become an anthropological theory itself. The context of intervention, by its turn, relates to the strategies for changing social/cultural practices. The effort to become part of other domains can neglect well established facts about behavior selection in favor of pursuing explanations at other levels. I will argue here that behavior analysis should instead pursue an interdisciplinary approach in the context of understanding and a behavioral-level approach in the context of intervention (i.e., interventions should rely on what we know about the behavior of organisms and not what we allegedly know about cultural selection). I will discuss the advantages of this alternative by using examples from the theory of social networks and complex contagion along with examples from behavior analysis itself.
Modeling Cultural Selection: Networking Evolutionary Organisms to Demonstrate the Emergence of Culturant Hypercycles
JONATHAN KRISPIN (Valdosta State University)
Abstract: There has been rapid development in some areas of Culturo-Behavioral Science, namely in research on the metacontingency, but there are many other areas where empirical research is needed. One such area is in the realm of cultural selection. Couto and Sandaker (2016) proposed a new perspective on this third level of selection, defining two new selection process – selection of cultures and cultural-selection. Krispin (2017; 2019) described a specific process through which these new selection process might be realized via the self-organization of culturant hypercycles. This presentation will propose a potential methodology for studying the emergence of culturant (and operant) hypercycles, built upon the Evolutionary Algorithm, a computer simulation of reinforcement learning (see McDowell, 2004; 2013). By networking interactions between simulated Evolutionary Organisms, we may be able to observe the emergence of operant and culturant hypercycles, and develop methods for modeling and studying them. Operant and culturant hypercycles may be identified using information entropy as a measurement of the extent of a system’s organization. By comparing the entropy of the emergent system with the entropy of its surroundings, we should be able to clearly distinguish these hypercycles.

Building a Systems Analytic Framework in Teaching, Research, and Practice in Culturo-Behavior Science

TRACI M. CIHON (University of North Texas; Behaviorists for Social Responsibility), Kyosuke Kazaoka (University of North Texas)

Culturo-Behavior Science (CBS), a recently formalized specialization in behavior analysis, brings together principles and techniques from Behavior Analysis, Behavioral Systems Analysis, Cultural Selection/Analysis, and Cultural Systems Analysis in order to understand how cultural phenomena develop and change over time. Culturo-behavior scientists are united by the philosophy of radical behaviorism and by their commitment to the application of the natural science of behavior to advance our understanding of behavior in its social and cultural environments. However, often debated among culturo-behavior scientists is both the extent to which a systems analytic framework should be adopted in CBS, and the role that basic laboratory preparations play in enhancing our understanding of cultural phenomena. With much still to discover about how behavior science can contribute to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems, the goal of this presentation will be to describe strategies for incorporating the diversity of thought embodied in CBS into teaching, research, and practice in CBS.




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