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 Paper Session #138
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

The Role of Atomic Repertoires in Generalized Operants and Observational Learning

Sunday, May 24, 2015
9:00 AM–9:50 AM
006AB (CC)
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Instruction Level: Intermediate
CE Instructor: David C. Palmer, Ph.D.
Chair: Francesca degli Espinosa (EABA)
DAVID C. PALMER (Smith College)
With bachelor's degrees in geology and English, Dr. David C. Palmer was devoting his post-graduate years to avoiding the draft when he chanced to pick up a copy of Walden Two from a friend's bookshelf. It changed the direction of his life. He promptly read the rest of the Skinner canon and spent the next decade trying to start an experimental community and preaching radical behaviorism to anyone who would listen. Eventually, he took some classes with Beth Sulzer-Azaroff, who persuaded him to apply to graduate school. Despite the predictions of bookies, he was admitted and began working with John Donahoe. He was happy in grad school and would be there still if the University of Massachusetts had not threatened to change the locks. He has spent the past 26 years as the token behaviorist at Smith College. During that time, he co-authored, with Donahoe, Learning and Complex Behavior, a book which attempts to integrate adaptive network simulation with experimental analysis and verbal interpretation of complex cases. He continues to puzzle about the interpretation of memory, problem-solving, and, particularly, verbal behavior and the behavior of the listener. He still thinks Skinner was right about nearly everything.

When the explicit training of a class of responses of one topography leads to the emission of one or more response classes of different topography, we speak of generalized operants. The empirical demonstration of such generalized classes is taken as evidence that the concept can be included in the conceptual toolkit of the behavior analyst without further analysis and that it can be used to explain other examples of emergent behavior. Dr. David C. Palmer will argue that this conclusion is unjustified. He will suggest that atomic repertoires can explain the relevant behavior economically, with no need to invent new explanatory terms. Furthermore, they offer a possible interpretation of the phenomenon of delayed observational learning.

Target Audience:

Anyone with an interest in parsimonious interpretations of complex behavior.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants should be able to: (1) describe the conditions under which we commonly speak of generalized operants; (2) cite an example in behavior analysis in which generalized operants are used as an explanation; (3) state why the concept of generalized operants is an inadequate explanation for the emergence of untrained behavior.
Keyword(s): atomic repertoires, concepts, generalized operants, observational learning



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