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.


44th Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2018

Event Details

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Special Event #535
Presidential Address: Out of the Lab: Shaping an Ecological Cultural Science
Monday, May 28, 2018
6:00 PM–6:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Grand Ballroom 7-13
Instruction Level: Basic
Chair: Michael J. Dougher (University of New Mexico)
CE Instructor: Mark A. Mattaini, Ph.D.

Presidential Address: Out of the Lab: Shaping an Ecological Cultural Science


Contemporary societies face critical, interlocking, "wicked" challenges, including economic inequities and marginalization, personal and collective violence, ethnic and religious struggles, degradation of "the commons," and climate change. Since Skinner's work in Walden Two and Science and Human Behavior, and especially since his Selection by Consequences in 1981, behavior science has explored the selection of cultural practices and processes, arguing that our science should offer unique potential for contributing to constructing just, satisfying, and sustainable societies. Cultural phenomena demonstrate high levels of complexity, however, while much of current cultural analytic scholarship by contrast remains relatively rudimentary. Current work typically is grounded in isolated laboratory experimentation structuring brief encounters with strangers, amputated from context and history; efforts to specify and negotiate consensus on terminology relying on analogues with operant processes; and post-hoc conceptual interpretations. We can do more (and different). Transdisciplinary work is crucially important for realistic intervention in cultural arenas, but our disciplinary partners also often operate from models that seriously oversimplify cultural processes (most public health interventions, for example, actually target individual behavior). Certainly a comprehensive and effective cultural science can only emerge within the natural science commitment that has always characterized behavior analytic science, grounded in contemporary selectionist frameworks, in partnership with other disciplines. There are however serious limitations in the standard formulations of our own and related sciences. Recent research argues that selection by consequences can account for only some, and in some cases the smaller part, of genetic, behavioral, and cultural changes. Recent advances in complexity science, dynamical systems theory (including self-organization and emergence processes), and non-Darwinian evolution can help, but behavior scientists have only begun to integrate such work. Most such advances have come at the basic level, with the exception of some recent organizational behavior management research. Something more is required to shape a cultural analytic science powerful and broad enough to address major societal challenges. In this presentation, the author will suggest that a framework integrating elements of the natural science of ecology and contemporary developments in systems science and complexity theories may be of particular value for expanding our science. Exemplars from recent field work, our own and that of others, will be presented within an ecological framework first outlined by Marston Bates, with particular attention to the potential of such a strategic direction to augment current behavioral systems science. Ecological science as outlined by Bates is highly recursive, integrating multiple transactional iterations of (a) rigorous observations of phenomenon of interest within their complex natural contexts, (b) the shaping of "conceptual schemes" emerging from those observations, tested against existing knowledge, and (c) (initially modest) experiments conducted under typical conditions in natural settings, designed in response to those observations and theoretical propositions, all (d) facilitated by the development of new measurement and analytic tools required throughout the cycle. Several such analytic tools and strategies, including statistical and neural network clustering, visual analyses including of dynamical systems, applications of matching and evolutionary dynamics, behavioral economics applications, and adequate preparation for use of rigorous statistical methods consistent with our science will be emphasized and integrated throughout.

MARK A. MATTAINI (Jane Addams College of Social Work-University of Illinois at Chicago)
Mark Mattaini, DSW, ACSW, holds an emeritus appointment at Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he was previously director of the doctoral program. He has developed, implemented, and researched behavioral strategies for individual, family, organizational, community and policy level interventions in the US, Canada, and Latin America, increasingly emphasizing advocacy, accompaniment, and activism in recent years. Consistent with that emphasis, his recent scholarship has focused on nonviolent action supporting social justice, and behavioral systems science at the cultural level. He is a research affiliate of the UIC Center for Research on Violence, and has chaired 25 dissertations related to responses to social issues. Most of his PhD graduates are engaged in research and practice with marginalized populations, including those victimized by—and perpetrating—violence, and in developing evidence-guided supports for young people experiencing homelessness and social exclusion. Dr. Mattaini is author or editor of 13 books, two of the most recent being Strategic Nonviolent Power: The Science of Satyagraha, and Leadership for Cultural Change: Managing Future Well-Being, as well as numerous other publications. Editor of the interdisciplinary journal Behavior and Social Issues, Dr. Mattaini has served on the editorial boards of multiple journals in behavior analysis and social work. ABAI Convention Program Board Coordinator from 2013-2017, he has also been a long-time member of the Board of Planners for Behaviorists for Social Responsibility, the oldest ABAI SIG.
Target Audience:

Board certified behavior analysts; licensed psychologists; graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) discuss the recent advances in complexity science; (2) discuss what is required to shape a cultural analytic science powerful and broad enough to address major societal challenges.



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