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.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Symposium #91
CE Offered: BACB
Living on the Edge: Respondent-Operant Distinctions, Interactions, and Analyses
Saturday, May 25, 2024
12:00 PM–12:50 PM
Convention Center, 200 Level, 203 AB
Area: PCH; Domain: Theory
Chair: Abbey Warren (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
CE Instructor: Abbey Warren, Ph.D.
Abstract: Learning processes, behaviors, and contingencies have all been functionally distinguished in terms of whether they are respondent or operant. For example, learning processes are described in terms of respondent or operant conditioning, behaviors are characterized as respondent or operant behaviors, and respondent contingencies are contrasted with operant contingencies. These respondent-operant distinctions are typically presented as fundamental to behaviorism as a theoretical orientation. In addition, they are rarely questioned. This has significant implications for behavior analytic research and practice, where analysis, assessment, and intervention typically focus on either respondent or operant contingencies (typically operant), and almost never both. When a behavioral analysis includes both respondent and operant contingencies, however, unique effects emerge. This symposium will explore the conceptual and practical distinctions between operant and respondent processes, behaviors, and contingencies. The first paper will provide an overview of respondent-operant distinctions, with a special emphasis on contexts in which they dissolve and contexts in which they add utility. The second paper will question the frequent categorization of cognition as operant behavior, and unpack it as respondent. The third paper will explore the importance of operant-respondent interactions in the analysis of complex behavior.
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Cognition, Functional analysis, Operant, Respondent
Target Audience: Prerequisite competencies: Understanding of the application of behavioral principles of operant and respondent learning, the distinction between operant and respondent behavior, and the processes involved in operant and respondent contingencies. Target Audience: Students, Behavior analysts in training, Clinical behavior analysts, Applied behavior analysts
Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) Describe conditions under which respondent-operant distinctions fall apart (2) Identify one practical implication of treating thinking as respondent behavior (3)Explain the role of respondent-operant interactions in applied practice
The Blurry Edges: Contextualizing Respondent-Operant Distinctions and Interactions
KAREN KATE KELLUM (University of Mississippi), Emily Kennison Sandoz (Louisiana Contextual Science Research Group; University of Louisiana Lafayette)
Abstract: Respondent and operant behavior are distinguished functionally in terms of what aspects of context they are sensitive to. Respondent behaviors are primarily sensitive to antecedent stimuli. This functional relationship between context and behavior (i.e., process) is specifically referred to as elicitation, and the change in that relationship as respondent conditioning. Operant behaviors are sensitive to both consequential and antecedent stimuli. These functional relationships between context and behavior (i.e., processes) are specifically referred to as motivation, discrimination, and consequation. The change in these relationships are all considered under the umbrella of operant conditioning. These distinctions are trained as fundamental to behavior analysis. And yet, their distinctions may be in part an artifact of our conceptual analyses and assessment practices, particularly to the extent that behaviors participate in multiple functional relationships with different aspects of context and with one another. This paper will (1) review conditions under which the respondent-operant distinctions fall away and the relationships among these processes become apparent, (2) explore conceptual analyses that account for these observations, and (3) discuss the conditions under which these distinctions remain useful.
Elicitation of Mind: A Conceptual Analysis of Cognition as Respondent Behavior
EMILY KENNISON SANDOZ (Louisiana Contextual Science Research Group; University of Louisiana Lafayette), Karen Kate Kellum (University of Mississippi)
Abstract: Thinking is an odd behavior. In every moment, of every day, we are thinking. And yet - thinking has long presented a conceptual and practical challenge for behavior analysts. While explicitly rejecting mentalism, our alternative behavioral approach to understanding thinking is unclear at best, and often - problematic. First, classifying thinking as private behavior suggests that thinking is unobservable to anyone except the thinking person, and thus, difficult to assess or intervene upon. Second, thinking has been analyzed inconsistently as both private behavior (i.e., the act of thinking) and private physiological stimuli (i.e., thoughts as stimulus products) - at times, in the same analysis. Applications of these analyses are similarly inconsistent. Third, thinking behavior is typically assumed to be operant, and thus sensitive to consequential control, which requires characterizing either thoughts or other behaviors as the consequences for thinking, landing us squarely in mentalism. This presentation will explore thinking as subtle, elicited behavior, emphasizing the practical power of this account.
Applying Respondent-Operant Analyses to Further Contextualize Complex Behaviors
VICTORIA DIANE HUTCHINSON (Saint Louis University, University of Mississippi, Irby Psychological Services), Mary McCarley (Irby Psychological Services)
Abstract: While operant and respondent conditioning have been described as distinctive mechanisms, operant-respondent interactions have been theorized throughout behavior analytic history, and research has demonstrated the evidence of these interactions in nonhuman and human examples (Brewer, et al., 2018). Some research includes the use of respondent conditioning in aversive control of stimuli that can impede operant learning in the same context. Further research and conceptualization of the interactions has yielded the consideration of human language and cognition as additional controlling factors related to responding to stimuli with avoidance behaviors, thus no longer contacting the operant contingencies of the environment (Schlund, et al., 2017). This creates a problem in the clinical context in which primarily operant procedures are being used to teach new skills and responses. The current presentation describes factors of operant-respondent interactions in analyzing complex behaviors with dual or multiple functions. Clinically relevant examples are provided and functionally assessed with potential strategies outlined to address functional relationships within context.



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