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.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

Previous Page


Symposium #454
CE Offered: BACB
Integrating Funtional Units Into Naturally Occuring Behavior
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
9:00 AM–10:50 AM
007C (CC)
Area: TPC/VRB; Domain: Theory
Chair: M. Jackson Jackson Marr (Georgia Tech)
Discussant: Travis Thompson (University of Minnesota)
CE Instructor: Travis Thompson, Ph.D.

Since Aristotle whole-part relations have been of fundamental philosophical concern. Within the sciences some version of atomism is generally a given, though not without misgivings. The integration of smaller behavioral units to comprise more complex behavior has been of interest since the days of Thorndike and Watson's Behaviorism and Tolman's Purposive Behaviorism, and was a topic of concern to Skinner throughout his career. Skinner never proposed a consistent mechanism accounting for the way individual operants are combined to form complex, naturally occurring behavior outside of controlled laboratory situations. In 1986 Thompson and Lubinski in the volume "Integrating Units of Analysis," suggested a mechanism based on Premackian relative probability relations, greatly elaborated recently by Killeen to include an comprehensive array of operant and non-operant behavior. Marr has questioned the generality of the concept of behavioral units in the light of various definitions, our methods of digitizing what is, in fact, a continuum, and Hineline has argued the key process holding a naturalistic narrative together appears to involve a dynamic role of establishing stimuli,.

Keyword(s): integration, natural behavior, units

Narrative: A Challenge for Behavior Theory

PHILIP N. HINELINE (Temple University - Emeritus)

Narrative permeates not only mystery stories and other novels: it is salient in newspaper and magazine discussions of social problems; it is part of the standard formula for political speeches and for soliciting money for a worthy causes; and, of course, story-telling occupies much of ordinary conversation. Nevertheless, behavior analysts have had little to say about narrative, perhaps because its salient characteristics are mainly structural, whereas behavior analysis addresses mainly the functions of verbal behavior. In addition, the role of the individual listerners behavior is crucial, and behavior analysts have tended to homogenize the listeners role as that of audience or verbal community. Despite these limitations, behavior analysts have delineated a few phenomena that appear to be relevant: joint attention and the discriminations and functions involved in imitation, equivalence classes and relational frames are a few. But the key process that holds a narrative together appears to involve a dynamic role of establishing stimuli, similar to the role of discriminative stimuli in other integrated units of behavior.


E Pluribus Unum: or, A Tangled Tale of the Behavioral Unit


Early in his Behavior of Organisms, Skinner asserted, Thesystem is based on the assumption that both behavior and environment can be broken into parts which retain their identity throughout an experiment and undergo orderly changes. If this assumption were not in some sense justified, a science of behavior would be impossible (p. 33). He went on to describe the natural lines of fracture along which behavior and the environment actually break (p.33). Thus the analysis of behavior from its beginning has apparently depended on a concept of unit. More than three-quarters of a century has passed and we are still wrestling with this concept. I will survey at least a portion of that struggle with some exemplars of how the term unit has been applied as well as the vexing issue of how putative units might emerge from the behavioral stream. While certain examples may justifiably qualify as functional behavioral units in demonstrating a consistent integrity, one may question the generality of the concept in the light of various definitions, our methods of digitizing what is, in fact, a continuum, the focus on the steady-state as opposed to details of acquisition, and the non-linear, irreversible dynamics of behavioral change.


Units, Atoms, and Actions

PETER R. KILLEEN (Arizona State University)

Units are standardized measurements of physical magnitudes. They are concatenated physically by juxtaposition and mathematically by addition. Inches are no more natural than centimeters; both are conventions. They belong to the scientist not the subject. Atoms are natural elements, nominally indivisible; they are concatenated physically by juxtaposition and mathematically by atomic physics. If juxtaposed too forcibly they fuse into new elements. Elements of a given name need not be identical; Iron has four stable isotopes and two-dozen unstable ones. The behavior of organisms does not have units, although behaviorists assign them. It has elements, such as the licking movement of the rats tongue, one among many action patterns identified by ethologists. Do the actions have isotopes? What does it take to fuse them? Does fusion reduce them to a lower energy state? Attend for answers; bring dosimeters.


Integrated Functional Units of Behavioral Analysis

TRAVIS THOMPSON (University of Minnesota)

Complex concatenation of arrays of naturally appearing behavior, dispositions and dispositional states arranged according to relative probability hierarchies, are proposed to account for natural human and other organisms behavior in natural settings. Components include operants, and embedded unconditioned reflexive, adjunctive, classically conditioned responses, as well a dispositions. Inclusion of Rylian dispositions and endogenous dispositional states, similar in some respects to Tolman's expectancies, makes it possible to account for a causal role of private events within naturalistic response sequences. To the degree that those disposition or states are tactable, (e.g. autoclitically) we conventionally refer to the speaker as having insight or self-understanding. Examples of laboratory and familiar natural human behavior will be discussed.




Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh