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.


48th Annual Convention; Boston, MA; 2022

Event Details

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Symposium #248
CE Offered: BACB
Art as Behavior: There's No Escaping It
Sunday, May 29, 2022
11:00 AM–12:50 PM
Meeting Level 1; Room 156C
Area: PCH/CSS; Domain: Translational
Chair: Robin Kuhn (University of Kansas)
Discussant: Per Holth (OsloMet -- Oslo Metropolitan University)
CE Instructor: Robin Kuhn, Ph.D.

As the title reads, art may be conceptualized by the responses that produce it. Increased discussion of the contingencies maintaining art at multiple levels, from perspectives of the maker and the viewer, could improve understanding of art as behavior. The purpose of this symposium is to contribute to the ongoing discussion about art as a subject within behavior analysis, and ideally catalyze research by illuminating multiple areas of art as behavior ripe for study. The first presentation in this symposium will discuss art in terms of the cultural practices that sustain it by examining three different art movements across three unique domains. The second presentation will explore the environmental contingencies thought to promote artistic expression at various levels of analysis. The third presentation will discuss fluctuations in the demand for a major American portrait artist from a perspective a culturo-behavioral selection and complexity of the contexts where the artist lived. The fourth and final presentation will describe research aiming to prevent unwanted touching of art, providing one example of the use of single-case design to investigate audience behavior. The presentations will be discussed in the context of current art-related literature within behavior analysis and with consideration towards its expansion.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Behavior analysts

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the symposium, attendees will: (1) describe the impact of culture on art; (2) state the role of the audience in art; (3) discuss art as behavior and the contingencies that support art making.
Influence of Cultural Selection Processes in the Definition of Artistic Movements
AECIO DE BORBA VASCONCELOS NETO (Universidade Federal do Para), Alexandre Sequeira (Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA)/Brazil)
Abstract: Every culture has developed practices that could be called art. A behavior analyst may address that topic by describing what variables are relevant when that verbal response is emitted. These variables depend on cultural practices, and may vary according to a particular artistic movement. This conceptual talk will discuss that art can be described as behavior and its products that are emitted, taught, and transmitted. Thus, we describe art as defined in a set of cultural practices that are present in cultures, and artistic movements can be described in terms of metacontingencies. By examining three different art movements in different domains – romanticism in literature, impressionism in painting, and the punk movement in music – we address the context where these movements rose, reinforcing practices in the community, and cultural consequences that selected these movements. We conclude by describing that, while different in topographies, the three can all be understood as cultural practices that were selected by an environment receiving artists’ novel behaviors, that brings to discussion topics of that time, and presents forms of counter-control of practices of previous movements. Thus, we offer a starting point for discussion of how art can be understood.

Not a Gift! Learning to be an Artist

MARILU MICHELLY CRUZ DE BORBA (Iluminar), Robin Kuhn (University of Kansas), Alexandre Sequeira (Universidade Federal do Pará)

While it is commonly accepted that complex behaviors can be understood, when we talk about artists, mentalistic explanations are accepted. However, an artist's operant behavior can be explained, even if the controlling variables are not readily available to the observer. This conceptual paper aims to discuss, through artists’ talks and works, the variables that control those behaviors. Those variables include antecedent variables where artists learn to respond to parts of the world. They also learn responses, not only technically, but ways to behave relevant to an artistic community. In these communities, contingencies are presented in such a way also to reinforce some behaviors and its variations, in novel and original ways. Finally, we discuss the consequences of artistic behavior, pointing they are not only social and financial, but may include the automatic reinforcers present in producing art, where the creation process itself is the reinforcer, and that art may be controlled by negative reinforcers, as a socially accepted way to express emotions and ideas that otherwise wouldn’t be. The interplay of those elements, in unique and new ways, in an environment that selects for artistic expression, may help to understand the behavior of the artist.


The Rise and Rise Again of Sargent's Figure Painting

MARIA E. MALOTT (Association for Behavior Analysis International)

John Singer Sargent (1856 –1925) was the most prolific and renowned American figure painter of the 19th century. Painting was his love: “To work is to pray” (“Laborare est orare,”in Latin) is the inscription of his tombstone. He painted over 900 portraits and today he is recognized internationally with unequaled distinction. Though, during his lifetime and even following his death, he reached both fame and disgrace with his figure painting several times over. At the height of his career, he was highly praised and was inundated with international demand for his portraits. At the bottom, he was subject to scandal, his commissions curtailed, and he felt forced to move out of Paris. He said, “Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend”; and by 1907 he resolved to stop portrait paintings all together, especially of the upper classes. He devoted himself to other branches of painting, producing over 1800 watercolors, large paintings, and murals. This presentation attempts to explain the fluctuations in the demand for Sargent’s portraiture from a perspective a culturo-behavioral selection and complexity of the contexts where he lived. The analysis is relevant to the site of the 2022 ABAI convention: He was prominent in Boston—a city that houses some of his most significant paintings.

The Effects of Signs on Unwanted Touching of Museum Displays
(Applied Research)
REILLY FULLERTON (University of Kansas), Thomas L. Zane (University of Kansas), E. Scott Geller (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University ), Vincent T. Francisco (University of Kansas)
Abstract: When exploring a museum, visitors often reach out and touch the art. This unwanted touching has serious consequences – art can be damaged, with millions of dollars spent annually on restoration. Museums employ interventions such as stanchions, plexiglass, and signs to discourage touching, but no formal data have been collected regarding effectiveness of these interventions. The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of antecedent procedures on unwanted touching of museum art. Using an alternating treatment design, three different signs were posted within a few feet of a targeted piece of art. The signs were constructed to evoke an observing response – the front of each sign read, “Please look at the back of this sign!” On the back of each sign was a directive, rationale, or rationale and graphic message. Data were collected on the percentage of visitors who touched the art, the percentage of visitors who made the observing response, and percentage of visitors who made the observing response and then touched the art. The results of this study could increase protection of priceless art and potentially save the institution money for years to come.



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