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

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Invited Tutorial #199
CE Offered: BACB
Why Behavior Analysts Should Care About Sensory Psychology
Sunday, May 24, 2015
2:00 PM–2:50 PM
207AB (CC)
Area: EDC; Domain: Theory
BACB CE Offered. CE Instructor: Cynthia M. Anderson, Ph.D.
Chair: Cynthia M. Anderson (Appalachian State University)
Presenting Author: A. CHARLES CATANIA (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

Three-term contingencies are relations among stimuli, responses, and consequences as they interact in the context of motivational operations. The stimulus is therefore an integral part of behavior analysis. Experimental psychology courses once routinely included learning and behavior along with sensory psychology and psychophysics as substantive components, but they gradually evolved into methodology courses devoid of specific content. Behavior analysis and sensory psychology then diverged despite their commonalities, not least of which were single-subject research designs. Sensory psychology remains crucially relevant to many things we do. This tutorial explores how it has made and can continue to make significant contributions to both basic research and applications. The examples to be considered include, among others, problem behavior that is sometimes a byproduct of the sensory deficits that often accompany developmental disabilities, the auditory phenomenon of recruitment as it can occur in geriatric populations, and signal-detection analyses of the costs and benefits of false alarms and misses in discrimination tasks such as breast self-examination. Behavior is a biological system, so it should be no surprise that it shares properties with sensory processes, as when contrast effects in behavior are paralleled by similar effects in vision, hearing, and other senses.

Instruction Level: Basic
Target Audience:


Learning Objectives:
  1. Engaged participants should be able to briefly describe the basic signal-detection payoff matrix and say why it is relevant to behavior analysis.
  2. Engaged participants should be able to describe the basics of sensory psychology, including the role of inhibitory processes in edge detection, color-blindness and other visual deficits, and recruitment effects in hearing, and say why such phenomena are relevant to behavior analysts.
  3. Engaged participants should be able to describe the individual-organism methodologies of both sensory psychophysics and behavior analysis, and to identify the common features of these two areas that make them potential partners in a biologically based science of behavior.
A. CHARLES CATANIA (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
When A. Charles Catania encountered psychology as an undergraduate at Columbia University, the curriculum developed by Keller and Schoenfeld included sensory processes along with learning as crucial components of experimental psychology. His subsequent graduate and postdoctoral work at Harvard University also called for familiarity with both operant and sensory processes. After a stint doing psychopharmacology at the SK&F Laboratories in Philadelphia, he moved to the University Heights campus of New York University and then to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where he is now professor emeritus. Along the way, operant research involving sensory systems made up a rich part of his academic environment, comprising such examples as Blough's development of psychophysical procedures with pigeons, Hefferline's work on sensory feedback, Dews' treatment of pharmacological data in terms of drugs as stimuli, and Nevin's application of signal-detection theory to reinforcement schedules. That background in sensory psychology has continued to inform Catania's research, teaching and writing. He has studied visual acuity in the pigeon, extended psychophysical methods to temporal properties of stimuli, and explored parallels between interactions in sensory systems and those in behavioral systems. The current edition of his text, Learning, incorporates many examples drawn from the literature of sensory psychology.
Keyword(s): sensory psychology, sensory systems, signal detection



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