In his seminal paper “Some Thoughts About the Future” (1986), Skinner delineated directions that he thought were critical for the experimental analysis of behavior to take in order to thrive in the future. Now seems to be a fitting time to reflect upon the ways in which behavior analysis as a discipline can flourish in the years ahead, particularly in light of the world’s recent sociocultural challenges. Skinner long envisioned that the science of behavior would mature sufficiently to be effectively applied at the level of a culture, where mechanisms of selection could be implemented in ways that supported the well-being of all members and the longevity of the group. I contend that a science of cultural behavior may be well poised to promote cultural change if synthesized with the research program and conceptual framework supplied by relational frame theory (RFT), and applied methods drawn from these innovations that help create a science of intentional change. In this presentation, I explore how cultural practices are selected and transmitted not only by direct-acting contingencies, but also due to the influence of verbal stimulus functions, or indirect acting contingencies. I provide examples from such diverse topics as political propaganda or rhetoric and prejudice and stigma. I further explore how acceptance and commitment training (ACT), scaled up and applied at a systems level, may be able to alter the functions of verbal stimuli so that cultural practices consistent with a community’s shared values can be established. Planning for the future requires a behavior analytic conceptualization of values, which has been traditionally defined as the reinforcers that maintain a culture’s practices. Challenges persist in arranging contingencies whereby people value not only the well-being of others but their culture’s future as well. RFT helps behavior analysts appreciate valuing as a verbal process, whereby statements of values enhance the efficacy of reinforcers for behaviors consistent with those values. This approach can help us develop a technology for promoting shared or collective values among communities of people, to include, for example, celebrating diversity, promoting the well-being of others, and caring about the future. Although the primary purpose of this address is to serve as a call to action for the broad-scale application of RFT and ACT to propel a behavior analytic science of cultural change, I conclude by suggesting that the discipline itself engage in something akin to values clarification to ensure that our field adapts to changing circumstances and shifts paradigms so that the field itself has longevity. We may not have time to waste.
|Ruth Anne Rehfeldt received her Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1998, and is a professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Chicago and Director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dr. Rehfeldt has contributed both basic and applied research that is impressive for its bench-to-bedside translation in the area of derived stimulus relations. Particularly noteworthy is her applied work demonstrating the effectiveness of interventions based on derived stimulus relations for learners ranging from young children to persons with disabilities to graduate students. Her work has contributed to the understanding of complex forms of human behavior, focusing on verbal behavior, rule governance, observational learning, stimulus equivalence, and perspective-taking. Dr. Rehfeldt has also served on a number of editorial boards and was editor of The Psychological Record for more than a decade.