IT should be notified now!

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.

Donate to SABA Capital Campaign
Portal Access Behavior Analysis Training Directory Contact the Hotline View Frequently Asked Question
ABAI Facebook Page Follow us on Twitter LinkedIn LinkedIn
  • CBM: Clinical/Family/Behavioral Medicine

    DEV: Behavioral Development

    EAB: Experimental Analysis of Behavior

    PCH: Philosophical, Conceptual, and Historical Issues

    PRA: Practice

    VRB: Verbal Behavior

Ninth International Conference; Paris, France; 2017

Event Details

Previous Page


Invited Paper Session #110
CE Offered: PSY/BACB
Aesthetics From a Behavioral Science Perspective
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
4:30 PM–5:20 PM
Scene AB, Niveau 0
Area: PCH
CE Instructor: Francis Mechner, Ph.D.
Chair: Jack Marr (Georgia Tech)
FRANCIS MECHNER (Columbia University and The Mechner Foundation)
Francis Mechner received his doctorate in 1957 from Columbia University under Professors F. S. Keller and W. N. Schoenfeld, and continued on the teaching faculty until 1960. He did much of his work on the behavioral analysis of aesthetics during his years at Columbia. In 1961 he developed an instructional technology based on behavioral analysis, which he then used to create instructional programs for high schools, medical schools, teaching hospitals, and industry. Under a federal contract, he led the establishment of a prototype Job Corps Training Center for a nationwide network of such centers. In 1968 Mechner founded and operated the first Paideia School. In 1970 he participated in the original design of Sesame Street with the Children's Television Workshop. With support from the U.S. Dept. of HEW he created educational daycare systems for four states, and testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in support of the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971. With endorsement from the OECD, several countries, including Brazil, implemented Mechner's manpower development technology. Besides his analysis of aesthetic phenomena, Mechner's work has included: laboratory research on operant behavior and resurgence; development of a formal symbolic language for codifying behavioral contingencies; founding and operating innovative schools; and a continuing R&D program in educational technology.
Abstract: Aesthetic responses are pervasive in human behavior and therefore deserving of scientific study. The term aesthetic is associated with certain types of surprise-tinged emotional responses evoked by stimuli consisting of synergetic interactions (interactions that have transformative effects) among elements that may be neutral individually. Such interactions are pervasive in nature (chemical reagents reacting to create another substance, DNA creating organisms, or photosynthesis creating leaves). Depending on art form or discipline, the interacting elements may be sounds, visual stimuli, words, abstract concepts, flavors, or actions of others. Artists, composers, poets, performers, chefs, etc. create aesthetic effects by assembling and combining these into “synergetic brews.” The synergetic interactions become stimuli for individuals who have a relevant priming history—familiarity with the elements of the brew and the memes of the relevant culture. Aesthetic responses occur when suitable potentiating circumstances prevail. Aesthetic responses have reinforcing effects traceable to their biological utility during our evolution. Such biological utility can be the result of certain types of instructional or informative events that result in surprise, often upon disconfirmation of expectations, expansion or refreshment of existing conceptual classes or relations; or learning of new concepts or relations. Examples drawn from music, poetry, visual arts, performing arts, and other disciplines, illustrate how artists, composers, poets, etc. use a limited set of devices to create synergetic brews. Some of these involve repetition, symmetry, and parsimony. Orators, actors, and other performing artists include, in their synergetic brews, emotionalizing elements generated by the audience’s mirroring of the performer’s emotional displays.
Target Audience: Licensed behavior analysts, psychologists, graduate students.
Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) use the terms “synergetic interaction,” “synergetic brew of elements,” “aesthetic response,” “surprise,” “emotion,” “primed,” and “potentiating factors” in describing features that aesthetic phenomena share; (2) identify 5 concept manipulation devices that can create aesthetic effects in the arts; (3) describe the evolutionary roots of 3 reinforcement mechanisms that are operative in aesthetic responses.


Modifed by Eddie Soh