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 #323
Everybody Dreams: An Overview of Behavioral Conceptualizations of Dreams and Dream Analysis
Sunday, May 30, 2021
6:00 PM–6:50 PM
Area: PCH/CBM; Domain: Theory
Chair: Patrick Wade Richardson (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
Discussant: David R. Perkins (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

The philosophical and empirical evaluation of dreams can be traced all the way back to early Greek philosophers. Popularized in psychology by Sigmund Freud, dreams represent a complex class of covert behaviors not frequently conceptualized by behavior analysts. Nonetheless, B. F. Skinner is documented describing dreams as perceptual behaviors, subject to operant and respondent stimuli, operating in the absence of consequence. In contrast, J.R. Kantor labeled dreams as implicit behavior, coming about via stimulus substitution. Further, Kantor proposes that dreaming behavior seems to function apart from any immediate interacting context, which contributes to its varying and sometimes radical content. In the first paper, the author will present historical conceptualizations of dreams and dreaming behavior, followed by an in-depth discussion on Skinnerian interpretations. In the second paper, Skinner’s writings on dreams will be contrasted with Kantor’s interbehavioral theory, with a particular emphasis on the advantages of adopting an interbehavioral approach. These papers are intended to facilitate open discussion about dreams and show the connection between varying historical conceptualizations.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): Behaviorism, Dream Analysis, Dreams, Interbehaviorism

Dreams: A Historical and Skinnerian Perspective

BRAD PARFAIT (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Thomas B. Sease (Texas Christian University), MaKensey Sanders (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana Lafayette)

Dreams have a long history of cultural, spiritual, and scientific discussion. With the progression of humankind, so too did the conceptualization of dreams evolve in both science and philosophy. Psychology’s most common interpretation of dreams comes from the psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud. According to Freud, dreams are symbolic projections of people’s unfulfilled desires and repressed traumas. To understand dreams, psychoanalysts sought to understand the symbols within the dreams themselves, with the assumption that universal symbols persist in function across individuals and populations. Freud’s interpretation of dreams was challenged with the emergence of Skinner's radical behaviorism in the mid to late 20th century. In Skinner’s perspective, dreams are, like all behavior, the product of operant and respondent learning. Specifically, Skinner proposed that dreams are private events of seeing and hearing that emerge from our learning history under minimal consequential control. In this paper, these divergent perspectives will be discussed as well as implications for research and clinical practice.

The Behavioral Field: Dreams and Dream Analysis from an Interbehaviorist
THOMAS B. SEASE (Texas Christian University), Brad Parfait (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), MaKensey Sanders (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana Lafayette)
Abstract: Kantor’s interbehavioral psychology differs from Skinnerian behaviorism, in part, because of how it embraces the bidirectional relationship between the environment and behavior, and adopts that functional relationship, referred to as interbehavior, as the primary unit of analysis. Considering the difficulty that comes with identifying the consequences and antecedents that shape dreaming behavior, an interbehavioral perspective offers a unique contrast to traditional Skinnerian writings on the topic. Dreams, conceptualized as implicit interbehavior, involve the transfer of stimulus function without the restraints of any immediate interacting context. This paper will explore the advantages of conceptualizing dreaming from an interbehavioral perspective, emphasizing the substitutional nature of the content of dreams and the complex learning history of the dreamer. Further, the author will discuss potential implications for both research and practice.



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