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 #56
Re-Examining Avoidance: Contextualizing Appetitive and Aversive Functional Relations of Behaviors Typically Characterized as Avoidant
Saturday, May 25, 2024
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Convention Center, 200 Level, 202 AB
Area: PCH/TBA; Domain: Theory
Chair: Bella Laine Patterson (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
Discussant: Rosalie Prendergast (The Happy Medium Approach)

Avoidance is a common target of intervention for the applied behavior analyst in clinical practice (e.g, Dymon & Roche, 2009). Typically characterized as maladaptive, escape and avoidance are described in terms of the negative reinforcement contingency (Hineline, 2022). The present symposium will explore several behavior analytic conceptual analyses of avoidant behavior and reexamine this phenomenon contextually through the lens of appetitive and aversive functional relations. This symposium aims to: (1) to explicate the adaptive roles avoidance can serve in particular contexts (2) to reexamine or reconceptualize common behaviors typically considered avoidant. The first paper will reexamine avoidance through a contextual viewpoint, specifically applying the concepts of appetitive and aversive functional relations. The second paper will discuss preference for solitude, otherwise known as enjoyment in aloneness (Coplan et al., 2019). The third paper will re-evaluate the classic phenomenon of learned helplessness through a modern behavior analytic lens with implications for applied clinical practice. The fourth paper will review misconceptions of what conditions facilitate and inhibit the emergence of a video gaming addiction with emphasis on opportunities video games might offer for broadening learning abilities.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): Appetitve-Aversive Control,, Avoidance, Learned Helplessness, Video Games
Embracing Avoidance: Appetitive Avoidant Behaviors Through a Contextual Viewpoint
JON-PATRIC VEAL (University of Louisiana-Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Contextual Science Research Group)
Abstract: Avoidance has been defined as an operant behavior resulting from a history of exposure to harmful or unpleasant stimuli, contact with which has lessened as a consequence of the avoidant behavior (Skinner, 1953). Avoidance often develops into a maladaptive behavior through avoidance generalization in aversive contexts (Norbury et al., 2018). Maladaptive avoidance is a common factor in a number of negative mental health outcomes (WHO, 2004; APA, 2013). As a result, clinicians and researchers have focused on avoidance as a problematic behavior (LeDoux et al., 2016; Kawai & Kawai, 2019), and as such, work to reduce avoidance in clients (Lewis, 1972). It may be, however, that there are possible functions for avoidance behavior that appears aversive to the therapist. A functional contextual evaluation of client avoidant behaviors beyond assumed aversive functions could improve outcomes for clients (Hoffman & Hay, 2018). This paper will (1) discuss traditional definitions of avoidance learning and (2) demonstrate how a functional analysis of avoidance behaviors may yield different intervention outcomes.
A Contextual Behavioral Conceptualization of Preference for Solitude
WESLEY MALVINI (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Contextual Science Research Group)
Abstract: Solitude is defined as a lack of social interaction—with or without the presence of others (Burger, 1995). People can demonstrate a preference for solitude, which has been found to have several positive outcomes (e.g., psychological well-being; Nguyen et al., 2018). A common misconception is that preferring solitude is a maladaptive avoidant behavior (Ooi et al., 2018). However, people with a high preference for solitude typically do not have an aversion to social interactions. Rather, they enjoy aloneness (Coplan et al., 2019). The mischaracterization of a preference as aversion, however, puts people with a high preference for solitude at greater risk of social stigma and ostracism (Ren & Evans, 2021). This paper will review the extant literature on solitude behaviors and their functions determined thus far. Following a review of the literature, an analysis of solitude behaviors and the functions they serve for people who demonstrate preference for solitude will be conducted using a contextual behavioral lens. Finally, the current analysis will provide a new perspective for behavior analysts when researching or working with preference for solitude.
Reconceptualizing Learned Helplessness for the Modern Applied Clinician
CALEB MICHAEL JEAN (University of Louisiana At Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Contextual Science Research Group)
Abstract: The phenomenon of learned helplessness (LH) is associated with a number of psycho-social struggles (i.e., PTSD and anxiety; see Bargai et al., 2007; Hammack et al., 2012) and has been further proposed as a laboratory model of naturally occurring depressive behavior (Klein et al., 1976). Current conceptualizations of LH predominantly rely on mentalistic models emphasizing innate cognitive abilities and misattribution error as the source of this important behavioral process (e.g., Abramson et al., 1978). And while behavioral conceptualizations exist, they have not been updated and are rarely applied to the study of LH (see Hunziker & Dos Santos, 2007). The current paradigm of cognitive misattribution offers little in terms of making LH directly actionable as an observable act-in-context. The present paper will propose an updated conceptualization of LH that reflects modern behavior analytic research and emphasizes contextual factors that contribute to LH. Finally, this paper will apply the conceptual analysis offered to the challenge of increased sensitivity and effectiveness for clinicians with an emphasis on the appetitive practitioner-client relationship.
An Examination of Experiential Avoidance in Video Games
JOSH DELACERDA (University of Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Contextual Science Research Group), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Contextual Science Research Group)
Abstract: Video games can be an exceptionally salient and powerful reinforcer. Clinically and socially there tends to be a focus on excessive or otherwise problematic gaming. Inquiries of maladaptive behavior patterns surrounding video games often focus heavily on the frequency and duration of play (García-Oliva & Piqueras, 2016). Recent literature has become more concerned with the etiology of video game addiction -- that is, what contextual factors evoke compulsive use of video games (Plante et al., 2018). Experiential avoidance (Hayes, Wilson, Gifford, Follette, & Strosahl, 1996) describes the dominance of negative reinforcement contingencies in a particular setting or repertoire and has been associated with “addictive use” of information and communication technologies, including video games (García-Oliva & Piqueras, 2016). However, not all instances of gaming behavior function avoidantly (see Gentile, 2009). This presentation will first provide distinctions between aversive and appetitive functions of video games found in the extant literature, then provide examples of how video games may facilitate the broadening of behavioral repertoires in and outside of the clinical setting.



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