Strategies and Tactics of Behavioral Research
James M. Johnston Auburn University
Henry S. Pennypacker University of Florida
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Johnston, James M.
Strategies and tactics of behavioral research / James M. Johnston and Henry S. Pennypacker, Jr. 3rd ed.
p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. PsychologyResearchMethodology. I. Pennypacker, H. S. (Henry S.) II. Title. BF76.5.J63 2008 150.72dc22 2008019278
ISBN 0-203-83790-8 Master e-book ISBN
ISBN: 9780805858822 (hbk)
To Ogden Lindsley and Murray Sidman
Giants of our field upon whose shoulders we proudly stand
LIST OF BOXES
PART ONE THE NATURAL SCIENCE OF BEHAVIOR
1 SCIENCE AND SCIENTIFIC BEHAVIOR
Scientists as Behaving Organisms
Science as the Behavior of Scientists
Control by the Subject Matter
The Products of Science
Research Methods and Service Delivery
2 BEHAVIOR AS A SCIENTIFIC SUBJECT MATTER
The Evolution of Conceptions of Behavior
Toward a Scientifically Useful Definition of Behavior
A Working Definition of Behavior
3 ASKING EXPERIMENTAL QUESTIONS
The Nature of Experimental Questions
The Functions of Experimental Questions
PART TWO MEASUREMENT
4 SELECTING AND DEFINING RESPONSE CLASSES
Strategies of Selecting and Defining Response Classes
Tactics of Selecting and Defining Response Classes
5 DIMENSIONAL QUANTITIES AND UNITS OF MEASUREMENT
Properties, Dimensional Quantities, and Units
6 OBSERVING AND RECORDING
Tactics of Observing and Recording
7 ASSESSING MEASUREMENT
PART THREE DESIGN
8 BEHAVIORAL VARIABILITY
Sources of Behavioral Variability
9 STEADY STATES AND TRANSITIONS
The Steady-State Strategy
10 STRATEGIC ISSUES IN EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN
Experimental Design and Reasoning
Notation of Experimental Designs
11 CREATING EXPERIMENTAL DESIGNS
Single Baseline Designs
Multiple Baseline Designs
Turning Designs into Experiments
PART FOUR INTERPRETATION
12 ANALYZING BEHAVIORAL DATA
Data Analysis Strategies
Graphical Analytical Tactics
Statistical Analytical Tactics
13 INTERPRETING EXPERIMENTS
Sources of Control
List of Boxes
BOX 1.1 Are Scientists Different? BOX 1.2 Rule-Governed versus Contingency-Shaped Behavior BOX 2.1 Inner Causes BOX 2.2 The Dead Mans Test BOX 2.3 Is Thinking a Behavior? BOX 2.4 Traits and Colloquial Language BOX 2.5 Theory, Concepts, and Observability BOX 2.6 Parsimony BOX 2.7 Pure versus Quasi-Behavioral Research BOX 3.1 Research Styles BOX 3.2 Thematic versus Independent Research Styles BOX 3.3 Advocacy Research BOX 3.4 Experimental Questions versus Hypotheses BOX 3.5 The Null Hypothesis Game BOX 3.6 The Hypothetico-Deductive Method BOX 3.7 Ethical Considerations in Behavioral Research BOX 3.8 Serendipity BOX 4.1 Units of Analysis versus Units of Measurement BOX 4.2 Behavior, Response Classes, and Responses BOX 4.3 Another Kind of Response Class? BOX 4.4 Parent: What Did You Do Today? Child: Nothing BOX 4.5 Operational Definitions and Behavioral Measurement BOX 5.1 Frequency versus Rate BOX 5.2 A Tale of Two Frequencies BOX 5.3 How Many Dimensional Quantities Are There? BOX 5.4 Is Probability a Dimensional Quantity? BOX 6.1 How Do You Measure Slouching? BOX 6.2 What About Rating Scales? BOX 6.3 The Problem of Measurement Reactivity BOX 7.1 Reliability in the Social Sciences BOX 7.2 The Relationship Between Accuracy and Reliability BOX 7.3 Validity in the Social Sciences BOX 8.1 Free Will versus Determinism BOX 8.2 What is Inside the Organism? BOX 9.1 Measuring One Participant Many Times versus Many Participants Once BOX 9.2 One Data Point at a Time BOX 9.3 How Long Should Each Phase Last? BOX 10.1 Levels of Empirical Elegance BOX 10.2 Why Scientists Do Not Talk About Causes BOX 10.3 Why Psychology Likes Lots of Participants BOX 11.1 Risks of Between-Subject Comparisons BOX 11.2 Experimentum Crucis BOX 11.3 Do Experimental Designs Have to be Perfect? BOX 12.1 How Science Deals with Subjectivity BOX 12.2 Do We Need Data Analysis Police?
BOX 12.3 The Cumulative Recorder BOX 12.4 Does a Graphic Approach to Data Analysis Need Defending? BOX 13.1 When You Cannot Get There From Here BOX 13.2 Internal and External Validity BOX 13.3 Inferential Statistics as Interpretation BOX 13.4 Do Attitudes Toward Interpretation Vary Across Disciplines? BOX 13.5 Are We Preoccupied with Generality Across Individuals?
Our decision to write a third edition of Strategies and Tactics of Behavioral Research arose from our experiences, as well as those of many colleagues, in helping students to understand this material. We discovered many ways of improving our discussion of this approach to studying individual behavior, but we also saw that the audience for our text was changing. We had written the second edition primarily for doctoral students in psychology, education, and other academic fields specializing in the experimental study of behavior. However, we also observed considerable growth in Masters programs, especially those preparing practitioners working toward newly established credentials in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis.
We have written this third edition, no longer accompanied by a readings volume, to meet these changing needs. Although the core content and chapter divisions of the second edition remain relatively untouched, we have discarded many of the secondary issues and digressions that encumbered discussions in the previous edition. Instead, we have focused on describing and explaining the primary material in a straightforward and relatively simple narrative. We have composed both sentences and text_indentgraphs with unwavering attention to the needs of student readers.
Because many students learning this material may be planning careers as practitioners rather than as researchers, this third edition considers the relevance of methodological procedures and decisions for the delivery of professional services. This is not a stretch, of course. Many methodological requirements of professional practice originated in behavioral research methods, and the fact that the Behavior Analyst Certification Boardfi mandates coursework in this area clarifies the need to address the role of research methods in service scenarios.
Aside from substantive and literary revisions, we have also added a number of features that will make the volume more effective as a textbook. New terms are now identified in bold face type and are formally defined in indented tinted boxes, as well as in the glossary at the end of the book. There are now many tables that summarize the main points of a discussion, and they are joined by considerably more figures, including figures adapted from journal articles. Chapter end matter now includes not only study guides, but a chapter summary, suggested readings, discussion topics, and exercises. This material is also available on an instructors website, www.psypress.com/behavioral-research, which further includes lecture outlines and test items.
In sum, although the chapter topics are unchanged from the second edition, this third edition otherwise provides a very different experience for student and instructor. Substantial improvements in clarity of exposition and the addition of new learning aids offer a more appealing learning opportunity, and instructors will find it easier to take advantage of students interests. Incorporating the methodological interests of practitioners into each chapter extends this appeal to a growing professional discipline, a field partly defined by its respect for the highest standards of scientific practice.
We would like to thank our many students and colleagues who have offered valuable feedback along the way. We would especially like to thank Ryan Zayac at Central Washington University, who prepared many of the supplementary materials, and Wayne Fuqua at Western Michigan University, who served as a reviewer.
Finally, as with the second edition, the first author has assumed primary responsibility for this edition, although with the active intellectual support and guidance of the second author. Our contributions to the foundations on which the third edition is based remain thoroughly intertwined.
James M. Johnston
Henry S. Pennypacker
Those who fall in love with practice without science are like a sailor who enters a ship without a helm or a compass, and who never can be certain whither he is going.
Leonardo da Vinci
Part One The Natural Science of Behavior
Chapter One Science and Scientific Behavior
SCIENTISTS AS BEHAVING ORGANISMS
Are Scientists Different?
The Three-Term Contingency
SCIENCE AS THE BEHAVIOR OF SCIENTISTS
Examples of Methodological Choices
CONTROL BY THE SUBJECT MATTER
THE PRODUCTS OF SCIENCE
RESEARCH METHODS AND SERVICE DELIVERY
Research versus Practice
Role of Research Methods in Practice
The chief problem of science is the scientist
D. L. Watson
The scientific achievements of the 20th and now the 21st century have changed our lives in profound ways, and many people have come to revere science as an almost magical endeavor. We have grown confident that, given enough time and money, science can solve most of lifes problems, and we may be right. Those who devote their lives to doing research are held in high regard, and scientific careers are now rewarding not just professionally but financially.
And yet, most people do not understand how science really works. The average citizen does not have contact with the daily activities of scientists, so it is not surprising that it is hard to appreciate how scientific pursuits are different from everyday interests. A newspaper article about a scientific discovery inevitably stops short of explaining exactly how it was accomplished or describing the years of research that made the breakthrough possible.
Even researchers are likely to miss the forest for the trees as they focus on their own areas of interest. Most scientists are trained in the research literature and methods of their own specialties. They usually do not appreciate the underlying features of experimental methods common to all disciplines that make science a special way of learning about the world. There are some writers who specialize in studying science as an industry or enterprise, and a few others focus on science from a philosophical point of view. However, the critical essence of sciencethe features that are fundamental to its effectivenessoften eludes these writers too.
Scientists as Behaving Organisms
Are Scientists Different?
Understanding the essential features of a scientific search for natures secrets requires looking at the behavior of scientists is a particular way. This perspective is based on appreciating the fundamental processes underlying how human behavior actually works, which is itself the product of a field of scientific study. This point of view is very different from how we are taught by the culture to view human behavior. For instance, although we learn to talk about what is going on in the scientists head, this only distracts us from noticing more important relationships between scientists behavior and their daily work environments.
The key to understanding how science works lies in acknowledging that scientists are behaving organisms. As such, there is no evidence that scientists are generally different from other people. In other words, they are not any smarter or more logical than others who earn advanced degrees (Mahoney, 1976).
It is also important to recognize that the behavior of scientists, just like the behavior of all human and nonhuman animals, is as much a part of nature as any other scientific subject matter and can be approached with the same experimental tools. In fact, the scientific study of behavior over the past 100 years or so has revealed many now well-established laws about the variables that determine an organisms behavior. This research has shown that, in addition to whatever genetic endowment each individual is born with, the major influence on behavior is each persons moment by moment experiences as he or she goes through life.
Are Scientists Different?
In a somewhat humorously disrespectful book, titled Scientist as Subject: The Psychological Imperative (1976), Michael Mahoney delights in puncturing many illusions about scientists. For instance, he argues that scientists are not more intelligent than others, often illogical in their work, often selective and biased in their treatment of data, passionate in their prejudices, frequently dogmatic in their opinions, sometimes selfish and ambitious in pursuing personal recognition and defending territory, often secretive about their findings, and fond of spinning truths in hypotheses and theories before the data warrant. His general point is that scientists are not special, but just like the rest of us.
This list of shortcomings should suggest that, however well science usually works, it can go awry. Although it is relatively uncommon, scientists are sometimes dishonest with themselves (when they interpret data in a way they know is incorrect) or with their peers (when they publish findings they know are false). Fortunately, science has some effective self-corrective mechanisms. In brief, scientific research includes a public component that keeps innocent bias and blatant dishonesty at a minimum. Scientists must publish complete reports of their methods, data, and analytical procedures before other scientists will pay any attention to their findings. Some of their colleagues who are interested in the same topic will repeat the experiments, which will either confirm the original conclusions or cast doubt on them and lead to still further experimental efforts to see what the truth really is.
Scientific ethics is an important part of graduate training. If a researcher is found to have broken the cardinal rule of honesty, there are a variety of sanctions that may be applied. These sanctions include being prevented from being considered for federal grants, being fired, and even being prosecuted under civil or criminal statutes.
The Three-Term Contingency
The interactions between each action or response and its environmental context involve biologically mediated processes called conditioning or learning. The laws of conditioning describe exactly how the relationship between an individuals responses and the environmental events surrounding them affects his or her behavior in the future. It may be easiest to understand how learning works in terms of what is called the three-term contingency. In this context, a contingency refers to relationships between instances of behavior (responses) and their environmental antecedents and consequences. Figure 1.1 identifies the three terms that define the basic contingencies underlying all behavior. Environmental events that immediately precede responses are called antecedent events or stimuli, and those that follow responses are called consequent events. (These terms are often shortened to antecedents
Fig. 1.1. Schematic representation of the three-term contingency.
and consequences.) The contingencies involving these antecedent events, responses, and consequent events describe different relationships between a particular behavior or action and those features of the environment that precede or follow it. These relationships are termed respondents, operants, and discriminated operants.
Conditioning. The process of changing a behavior that involves interactions between responses and environmental events whose effects depend on the processes of reinforcement and punishment.
Learning. The relatively enduring changes in behavior that result from conditioning processes.
Contingency. A relationship between a class of responses and a class (or classes) of stimuli. Implies nothing about the nature of the relationship or its effects.
Three-term contingency. A set of functional relationships among distinct classes of antecedent stimuli, responses, and consequent stimuli that together constitute the model of how behavior is influenced by the environment.
Antecedent event. An environmental event that occurs immediately before a response. Used generically when it is not certain what function the event serves.
Consequent event. An environmental event that occurs immediately after a response. Used generically when it is not certain what function the event serves.
Respondent. A class of responses elicited by a particular unconditioned or conditioned antecedent stimulus.
Operant. A class of responses defined by a functional relation with a class of consequent events that immediately follow those responses.
Discriminated operant. A class of responses that are functionally related to classes of both antecedent and consequent stimuli.
The three-term contingency is a useful way of summarizing how behavior works because the biology of organisms, together with their unique life experiences, makes their behavior especially sensitive to certain kinds of environmental events. For example, humans are from birth especially sensitive to sweet-tasting substances, and their experiences with particular foods (e.g., cookies) can make such stimuli especially important. When a childs behavior such as standing on a chair to reach the kitchen counter where the cookies
are kept leads to the consequence of eating the cookie, that behavior is more likely to occur again in the future. This instance of the three-term contingency is called positive reinforcement. If the same behavior resulted in a different kind of consequence such as falling off the chair or being scolded by a parent, the behavior might be less likely to occur again. This instance of the three-term contingency is called positive punishment. Of course, there are other kinds of contingencies as well.
Positive reinforcement. A class of procedures involving the occurrence of a stimulus immediately following responding that results in an increase in some aspect of the response class over baseline levels.
Positive punishment. A class of procedures involving the occurrence of a stimulus immediately following responding that results in a decrease in some aspect of the response class over baseline levels.
The relationship between instances of behavior and the antecedent side of the three-term contingency also influences behavior, although somewhat differently. If a certain behavior occurs when a particular environmental event is present and the behavior then produces a reinforcing consequence, that antecedent event comes to serve a sort of signaling function. The behavior (a discriminated operant) is then more likely to occur when similar antecedent events (called discriminative stimuli) are present than when they are not present. For instance, if you drive up to a store and see an Open sign on the door, you will usually get out of the car and go in because in the past such behavior has resulted in reinforcing consequences. Not surprisingly, you would be less likely to get out of the car and try to go in if such behavior has been followed by a punishing consequence (the door is locked) in the presence of a different antecedent (a Closed sign).
Discriminative stimuli. Stimuli that have acquired the function of setting the occasion for a behavior to occur. A behavior is more likely to occur in the presence of a discriminative stimulus than in its absence. Abbreviated SD.
Other antecedent stimuli have functions that depend less on the consequences of responding and more on an organisms biology. For example, when a stimulus such as a puff of air contacts our eye, we blink, and it is difficult to avoid doing so. Even innocuous events paired with a puff of air elicit the same kind of blinking response. This behavior is an example of a respondent. (See Catania, 2007, for a more detailed treatment of the three-term contingency and the resulting classes of behavior.)
The repertoire of each of us at any point in our lives is largely the result of our history of contingencies like these. What we do or do not do, our skills, our emotions, and the unique features of our individuality are largely a function of the laws of conditioning. As with other laws of nature, these relationships are at work even if we are unaware of what is going on, and no one is exempt from them, even for a moment.
Over the years, scientific study of the relationship between behavior and the environment represented by the three-term contingency has been very fruitful. Researchers have not only learned a great deal about the basic components of conditioning, but they have also learned how to apply these fundamental principles to human behavior, especially under everyday circumstances. As a result, a still developing but powerful technology for changing behavior has emerged. This technology, called applied behavior analysis, is now used in diverse areas, including mental retardation, autism, brain injury, education, business, medicine, and sports (Austin & Carr, 2000).
Applied behavior analysis. A phrase that may refer to (a) the field of research that focuses on applying the findings of a basic science (the Experimental Analysis of Behavior) concerning fundamental processes of conditioning to address the need for changing behavior under everyday circumstances (b) the behavior change technology developed by applied researchers, or (c) the field encompassed by both applied research and delivery of the resulting technology.
Science as the Behavior of Scientists
The basic principles of conditioning or learning are relevant in a book on behavioral research methods because they are at the heart of how science works. The primary activities of scientists are figuring out what experiments to do, planning and conducting them, and interpreting and communicating their results. When scientists are doing these kinds of things, they are behaving. In fact, science is really no more than the behavior of scientists.
Although this may sound simple, the details can become complicated. We certainly do not know everything we might like to about the behavior of scientists. However, if we examine their activities in light of the three- term contingency, it can help to explain much of what goes on every day in the scientific workplace. This approach is also useful because it focuses on what researchers actually do and the environmental circumstances under which they do it. In other words, it helps us talk about scientific behavior in the same way we approach any behavior as a subject matter. We can try to identify the antecedent events that may prompt researchers to choose one course of action over another and the consequences that may reinforce some practices but not others.
This is a good perspective for a text on research methods because it helps to highlight the many choices that researchers face in conducting an experiment. Each choice about what to do and how to do it involves some antecedent circumstances and certain possible consequences. The alternative selected may lead to a reinforcing outcome or punishing outcome, which will then make similar decisions more likely or less likely in the future. Examining these scientific contingencies can help to show why some research practices are more effective than others under certain conditions. If we step back and examine the choices that researchers most often make in a certain discipline, we can identify the fields established methodological practices. The reason why those practices are preferred stems from their effectiveness for the individual researchers who choose them.
Examples of Methodological Choices
One of the first things a behavioral researcher must do is decide what behavior should be measured and how to measure it. For instance, as chapter 4 will show, there are different ways of defining a particular behavior. Some definitions are likely to produce more variability in the resulting data than others, and some may generate less variability. For instance, the behavior of cleaning a kitchen may be defined in terms of specific actions, such as putting dishes in the dishwasher, scrubbing the counters, and so forth. Alternatively, this behavior may be defined in terms of a certain outcome, such as clean dishes and counter, regardless of the actions involved (perhaps the dishes were washed by hand). As we will see, the degree of variability in the data is an important consequence of a researchers methodological choices.
Another set of decisions will be required when choosing the particular features of a behavior that may need to be measured. For instance, measuring how often the behavior occurs will provide a different picture than measuring how long it lasts when it occurs. One of these pictures may be more useful than the other in revealing the effects of an intervention and answering the experimental question.
There are also a series of choices that must be made in designing procedures for observing and recording the target behavior. For example, the researcher must decide how often observation will take place and how long each session will last. Not surprisingly, the choices here can again have a big impact on what the investigator learns about the behavior. For example, measuring a participants behavior only once before and once after an experimental treatment is certainly easier than measuring it repeatedly throughout both control and experimental conditions. However, the two kinds of data sets provide very different antecedents for the researchers interpretive reactions.
Designing an experiment involves selecting experimental and control conditions and then arranging them in
ways that show differences in responding between the two conditions. This aspect of research methods also faces the investigator with many choices. A key decision concerns how to compare data from control and experimental conditions.
One approach, which has a long tradition in psychology, is to divide a relatively large number of participants into two groups. The groups are treated the same except that one experiences the experimental condition and the other does not. The differences in the aggregate performance of each group are then analyzed using the rules of inferential statistics.
An alternative approach, which also has a long history, uses fewer participants but separately exposes each individual to a series of sessions under the control condition and a series of sessions under the experimental condition. Comparisons are then usually made using graphical techniques examining the performance of each participant.
These two approaches, which have many variations, are fundamentally different. As later chapters will show, they face the researcher with choices that lead to importantly different consequences for the nature of the data and for the kinds of interpretations that can be made.
Finally, once a study is completed and the data are available for analysis, figuring out what the data reveal about the experimental question provides still more choices. For instance: (a) Are all of the data fully appropriate for analysis, or should some data points be omitted because they represent the effects of extraneous factors such as illness? (b) What data analysis techniques are most appropriate? (c) If displaying the data graphically is planned, what kind of graphs should be used? (d) What type of scale should be used for the vertical axis? (e) What factors in the experimental procedures should be considered in interpreting the data? (f) Were there procedural problems that might make the data misleading?
Control by the Subject Matter
This chapter has introduced three themes that continue throughout this volume:
1. The essence of science lies in the behavior of individual researchers. 2. This behavior results from the same kinds of environmental contingencies that determine all other
behavior. 3. Viewing methodological choices in terms of their antecedents and consequences highlights important
distinctions among alternatives and helps investigators to make sound decisions.
This perspective toward scientific behavior leads to the conclusion that experimentation is about control. Conducting an experiment requires the researcher to control the factors whose effects are under study (the independent variable). At the same time, the investigator must control all of the other factors that are not of interest but that might affect how clearly these effects are seen (extraneous variables). In other words, the investigator must manage not only the experimental circumstances to make sure that they operate as intended but the status of any extraneous factors whose influence might be confused with the effects of the independent variable. All the while, the investigator must manage procedures for accurately measuring the targeted behavior (the dependent variable) to see if it changes as the independent variable condition is systematically presented or terminated.
Independent variable. Environmental event or events whose presence or absence is manipulated by the investigator in order to determine their effects on the dependent variable.
Extraneous variables. Environmental events that are not of interest to the researcher but that may influence the participants behavior in ways that obscure the effects of the independent variable.
Dependent variable. In behavioral research, usually a response class. The objective is to see if changes in the dependent variable depend on manipulations of the independent variable.
Although it may seem that the researcher is doing all the controlling, the ideal outcome of these activities is that the researchers behavior comes largely under the control of the subject matter. In other words, the data representing changes in the target behavior typically become a major influence on the researchers decisions. Obtaining a clear picture of the effects of the independent on the dependent variable is a highly reinforcing consequence for a researcher, and good researchers work hard to pursue this outcome. For instance, an investigator might try to eliminate an extraneous factor such as distractions that might affect a participants behavior in the hope that this action improves how clearly the data show the effects of the independent variable. A researcher might also work to improve how carefully staff members implement procedures in order to insure that an intervention operates exactly as intended.
As investigators attempt to produce a clear picture of the effects of experimental procedures on the target behavior, they use the accumulating data to evaluate their choices. The emerging data are often a good source of ideas about ways of improving the experiment. In sum, the subject matter (the behavior of participants) controls the behavior of a researcher by serving as feedback about how the experiment is designed and managed and by serving as a prompt for any needed improvements.
Scientific method may be described as a set of loose rules and traditions that have evolved over many years of experimental practice that bring the researchers behavior under the control of the subject matter. This outcome is what makes these conventions effective in studying natural phenomena. These rules and traditions also keep behavioral scientists looking for better ways to see the effects of experimental interventions. Researchers often go to considerable trouble to improve the clarity of experimental findings because if the data are misleading in some way the consequences can be pretty serious. Investigators who recognize these kinds of problems may admit to themselves that the project failed to provide a sound answer to the experimental question. Investigators who fail to recognize serious methodological shortcomings will probably attempt to publish their results. If a journal accepts their submission, the findings may then mislead peers, who may be unable to identify the problems from a journal article.
Scientific method. The established practices of scientific communities that have evolved over time because of their effectiveness in studying natural phenomena.
A fields scientific methods are important because the alternative to the researchers behavior coming under the control of the subject matter is having other sources of control dominate decision-making. These other influences can lead to problematic choices and limit the effectiveness of a study.
When human behavior is the subject matter, for example, it can be especially difficult for investigators to be completely free of the many preconceptions about behavior that everyone learns from growing up in the culture. For instance, our language suggests that: (a) behavior is generally motivated and controlled by events going on in the mind, (b) emotions control subsequent actions, and (c) we can make choices that are free of outside influences. These prescientific convictions often lead to poor experimental questions and methodological decisions.
The objective of this text is to summarize what many researchers have learned about methods of studying behavior. One way in which this book differs from other books on research methods is by not offering a set of methodological rules that might give a misleading impression of simplicity. Doing science is not a matter of following specific rules like recipes in a cookbook. Cookbooks may work quite well when the recipe is well tested, but scientific discovery is more like creating the recipe in the first place. Getting nature to reveal secrets about behavior involves many decisions, judgments, and even guesses. Successfully playing the science game requires acknowledging this complexity and understanding how science really works. This book therefore describes methodological practices in terms of the scientists behavior and the likely consequences of different courses of action that are available. Each research project requires a unique series of decisions, but their consequences must always lead to a clear picture of the effects of experimental conditions on the behavior of interest.
The Products of Science
If science is largely the behavior of scientists, the results or consequences of scientific activities are the facts, empirical generalizations, and laws of nature that are discovered. In the case of behavior as a subject matter, these products are actually statements of contingencies that describe the relationship between behavior and other events. When researchers describe experimental findings in plain English, these statements summarize ifthen relations. For example, a statement such as if a person smokes cigarettes for many years, then his or her chances of developing heart disease, lung cancer, or emphysema will increase greatly describes contingencies in nature. The value of science is that it allows scientists to identify and understand such contingencies with a high degree of accuracy. Their findings can then be used to guide the behavior of others who have not studied or experienced the contingencies.
Skinner (1974) described the role of scientific methods in the following way:
By learning the laws of science, a person is able to behave effectively under the contingencies of an extraordinarily complex world. Science carries him beyond experience and beyond the defective sampling of nature inevitable in a single lifetime. It also brings him under the control of conditions which could play no part in shaping and maintaining his behavior. He may stop smoking because of a rule derived from a statistical study of the consequences, although the consequences themselves are too deferred to have any reinforcing effect. (p. 124)
Research Methods and Service Delivery
Research versus Practice
As with fields such as medicine and engineering, the field of behavior analysis may be divided into two major endeavors: research and delivery of practical services. Some behavior analysts are employed in circumstances in which they are able to conduct research, and some portion of the research literature focuses on understanding relatively fundamental features of behavior. These studies are typically conducted under highly controlled conditions in laboratories, and they may use humans as well as nonhuman species as experimental participants. Much of the research literature, however, tends to apply basic research findings to develop ways of changing behavior for practical purposes. Applied studies are often conducted under fairly everyday circumstances and involve participants appropriate to the applied focus of the study (e.g., school children in a study of ways of teaching reading).
Rule-Governed versus Contingency-Shaped Behavior
The goal of science is to describe regularities in nature so that we may behave more effectively than would otherwise be the case. Scientific methods help researchers to figure out these regularities, which they express as rules. If what researchers learn is accurate and sufficiently detailed, these rules can lead others who have never experienced the contingencies to behave effectively.
The disadvantage of managing behavior with rules is that they are often less than fully accurate and complete. Furthermore, people may not follow the rules very well because their actions may be influenced by their experiences (contingencies). For instance, although the rule may be clear that smoking increases ones chance of certain diseases, the immediate consequences of smoking usually have the effect of making smoking more likely.
Behavior shaped by contingencies is usually very closely attuned to those contingencies, but shaping by contingencies requires each individual to experience them. This is not only less efficient than following a rule, but sometimes the consequences are quite costly in one way or another (as in developing heart disease from smoking).
The distinction between rule-governed and contingency-shaped behavior is relevant to research methods. As we have already pointed out, describing experimental methods as a set of rules to be blindly followed would not necessarily bring the researchers behavior under very good control of what is going on with the subject matter. This rule-based approach tends to lead to behavior that is too strongly influenced by theory, the research literature, or factors other than the data from the experiment. In contrast, the approach taken in this book emphasizes the contingencies between the actions of the investigator and the characteristics of the resulting data. Such contingencies tend to shape sound decisions about designing and conducting an experiment, as well as good interpretations of the data, by encouraging close attention to the subject matter. This, in turn, tends to lead to more accurate and complete descriptions of naturebetter rules.
Most behavior analysts are employed not as either basic or applied researchers, however, but under circumstances that require them to provide behavior-change services to a wide variety of individuals. The focus of these services is to improve the lives of the individuals who are served, which is a very different kind of activity from conducting behavioral research (Johnston, 1996). Researchers try to identify empirical generalizations about the relationship between behavior and environment by arranging special conditions
designed to answer experimental questions. In contrast, practitioners focus on changing an individuals behavior in targeted ways that solve problems in everyday living faced by the individual and others. Furthermore, practitioners do not typically work in situations where they can establish the degree of experimental control necessary for drawing accurate conclusions about the role of experimental variables.
Role of Research Methods in Practice
In spite of the different interests of researchers and practitioners, they share the same interest in using the best methods of studying behavior. In part, this is because when early applied researchers began studying how basic principles of operant conditioning might be used to develop practical procedures for changing behavior, they used the same research methods that worked so well in laboratory settings. As the applied research literature grew into a useful technology for changing behavior, practitioners continued using well-established methods for measuring changes in behavior and for evaluating the effects of intervention procedures. The result of this history is that today both laboratory researchers and practitioners approach their mutual interest in measuring behavior and assessing the effects of different conditions using much the same methods.
It might seem that giving scientific methods a key role in the practical delivery of behavioral services provides more sophistication than routine applications warrant. In fact, practitioners choose to hold themselves to these methodological standards, as reflected by the coursework requirements of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACBfi) for training in this area (Shook, Johnston, & Mellichamp, 2004). The reason for this commitment is that changing an individuals behavior for practical purposes is at least as complex as answering research questions and is anything but routine. Not only is each situation that practitioners face unique, but behavioral treatment procedures are not yet so well developed that they always work as intended. In other words, even the best attempts of well-trained practitioners may at first fail to achieve clinical objectives and require some ongoing adjustments.
Practitioners acknowledge this risk by carefully measuring target behaviors and by evaluating the effects of different behavior-change procedures as a case proceeds. Along the way, the data may suggest revising the definition of the original target behavior or starting measurement of an additional behavior. It is not unusual for data to indicate that intervention procedures are not working exactly as planned. Adjustments to procedures or the substitution of new procedures create new phases of the project whose effectiveness must then be evaluated. Finally, even when an intervention is successful, the durability of the changes usually needs to be monitored for some time after the intervention is discontinued.
Fig. 1.2. Percentage of total time in locomotion spent crawling by a girl with profound mental retardation. Adapted from OBrien, F., Azrin, N.
H., & Bugle, C. (1972). Training profoundly retarded children to stop crawling. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,5, 131137, p. 134. Copyright
1972 by the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Inc. Used by permission.
Figure 1.2 illustrates this kind of situation. The objective in this project was to reduce the amount of crawling by a young girl diagnosed with profound mental retardation in order to encourage her to move about by walking instead (OBrien, Azrin, & Bugle, 1972). Three 10-minute training sessions were conducted each day and involved an adult located in one corner of a large room encouraging her to come to them. When she got close to the adult, whether by walking or crawling, she was praised and given food reinforcers.
The graph shows the percentage of time spent crawling (as opposed to walking) when she was moving across the room. During an initial baseline phase there was no training or intervention, and she moved mostly by crawling. The first intervention involved making crawling ineffective. They did this by holding her by the waist for 5 seconds each time she started crawling, which prevented her from making progress. Under this condition, she continued to try to get across the room by crawling, although the authors reported that she attempted crawling less often. In the third phase, they continued the restraint procedure but also prompted walking by raising her to a standing position. The data show that the percentage of time spent crawling instead of walking immediately decreased by about half and continued to decline to near zero. The authors next repeated the no-training baseline condition, but this time the child spent only about 60% of her time in motion crawling. When they then evaluated the effects of just priming walking by raising her to a standing position (without any restraint), the data show that crawling immediately decreased to relatively low levels. Following another no-training phase, they again tried the restraint procedure that made crawling ineffective, and the proportion of time spent crawling instead of walking decreased still further.
This example shows the value in a clinical project of measuring behavior carefully and evaluating the effects of each change in procedures. Of course, the authors could not know in advance the effects of each variation in training procedures. What they learned was that making crawling less effective (through the restraint procedure) worked best when it was combined with priming walking behavior rather than when it was used alone. They also learned that priming alone could be effective and that, after these training experiences, merely restraining crawling was much more effective than when it was first used. The availability of an ongoing picture of the childs locomotive behavior (crawling versus walking) allowed them to make a series of informed judgments about what procedural changes might be most effective and then to evaluate their predictions.
The approach to behavioral measurement and evaluation of a series of conditions represented in this
example is fundamentally the same as that used by laboratory investigators whose interests are more narrowly scientific. Throughout this book, we will discuss methods for studying behavior in terms of the shared interests of researchers and practitioners.
1. Scientists are behaving organisms. Their behavior is not special in any way and it is influenced by the same biological and environmental variables underlying the behavior of other species.
2. A behavioral contingency is a relationship between responses and the environmental events preceding and following them. The three-term contingency refers to antecedent and consequent contingencies that are involved in the processes of conditioning or learning. The repertoire of each individual is the result of a history of these contingencies.
3. The research literature studying these contingencies has explained how the basic processes of conditioning work. Applied research has generated a widely used technology (applied behavior analysis) based on these conditioning processes.
4. It is useful to view the behavior of scientists in the context of conditioning processes because their behavior in designing and conducting experiments can best be understood by looking at the decisions that they must make and the consequences of these actions on the data that their study generates.
5. For example, different ways of defining a target behavior will lead to different kinds of data. Different features of a target behavior may show different effects of an intervention. Decisions about schedules of observation will yield different pictures of responding. Different ways of arranging comparisons between responding under control versus experimental conditions can lead to substantial differences in how data are analyzed.
6. There are three important themes throughout the book: (a) The essence of science lies in the behavior of individual researchers, (b) This behavior results from the same kinds of environmental contingencies that determine all other behavior, and (c) Viewing methodological choices in terms of their antecedents and consequences highlights important distinctions among alternatives and helps investigators to make sound decisions.
7. Conducting an experiment requires the researcher to control the factors whose effects are under study (the independent variable), as well as all of the other factors that are not of interest but might affect how clearly these effects are seen (extraneous variables). At the same time, the investigator must manage procedures for accurately measuring the targeted behavior (the dependent variable) to see if it changes as the independent variable condition is systematically presented or terminated. The researchers behavior should come under the control of the subject matter (behavior).
8. Scientific method is no more than a loose set of rules and traditions that bring the researchers behavior under the control of the subject matter, as opposed to prescientific, culturally based convictions.
9. The results of scientific activities are the facts, empirical generalizations, and laws of nature that are discovered. For behavioral science, these products are statements of contingencies that describe the relationship between behavior and other events. These findings guide the behavior of others who have not studied or experienced the contingencies.
10. Researchers try to identify empirical generalizations about the relationship between behavior and environment by arranging special conditions designed to answer experimental questions. In contrast, practitioners focus on changing an individuals behavior in targeted ways that solve problems in everyday living faced by the individual and others. In spite of these differences, both share the same interest in methods of studying or changing behavior. In order to accommodate the risk that interventions might not work as intended, practitioners routinely measure target behaviors and evaluate the effects of behavior-change procedures as a case proceeds.
Text Study Guide
1. The key to understanding how science really works lies in what two basic truths about scientists and their behavior?
2. What is a contingency? 3. Describe the three-term contingency. What are the three terms? 4. How is the three-term contingency a model for behavior? 5. What are three referents for the phrase applied behavior analysis? 6. Why is it useful to look at the activities of researchers in light of the three-term contingency? 7. Why is it important to consider the choices that a researcher faces in designing and conducting an
experiment? 8. Describe two fundamentally different approaches to comparing the effects of experimental and control
conditions. 9. Distinguish between independent and dependent variables. 10. What are extraneous variables? 11. What is probably a major reinforcer that controls how researchers choose to do experiments? 12. How is it that the researcher both controls and is controlled by the subject matter? 13. What is scientific method? 14. What is a key way in which this text is different from others on research methods? 15. What does it mean to describe the products of science as statements of contingencies that describe the
relationship between behavior and other events? 16. What is the difference between the primary focus of researchers and practitioners? 17. Describe the reasons why it is important for practitioners to use the same methods of measuring
behavior and evaluating interventions as researchers?
Box Study Guide
1. In what ways are scientists different from nonscientists? 2. What are the differences between behavior controlled by rules and behavior shaped by contingencies?
Austin, J. & Carr, J. E. (2000). Handbook of applied behavior analysis. Reno, NV: Context Press. Catania, A. C. (2007). Learning (4th ed.). Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing. Johnston, J. M. (1996). Distinguishing between applied research and practice. The Behavior Analyst , 19, 3547. Johnston, J. M., & Pennypacker, H. S. (1993). The development of behavioral research methods: Contributions
of B. F. Skinner. In J. M. Johnston & H. S. Pennypacker. Readings for strategies and tactics of behavior (pp. 817). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
OBrien, F., Azrin, N. H., & Bugle, C. (1972). Training profoundly retarded children to stop crawling. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis , 5, 131137.
Skinner, B. F. (1956). A case history of scientific method. American Psychologist, 11, 221233.
1. What are some common assumptions about how scientists are different from people working in other fields? If we look at them as no different from other individuals and focus on what they actually do, how does this change how we talk about them?
2. What kinds of consequences for a researchers decisions in designing and conducting an experiment might be reinforcing, and what kinds might be punishing?
3. In pointing out that scientific methods help to bring the behavior of the investigator under the control of the subject matter, the chapter suggests that other sources of control would otherwise influence methodological decisions. What are some of these alternative influences? Why might their influence be problematic?
4. Select some well-known scientific findings and translate them into ifthen contingencies. How do these contingencies save others from having to contact these contingencies personally?
1. Select some instances of specific behaviors and identify the antecedent events and consequent events surrounding them. Make sure that the examples include both small or trivial responses as well as more obvious or important responses. In what ways are these responses affected by their relationship with antecedent and consequent events.
2. Select an experimental study from a scientific journal and identify the independent variable, the dependent variable, and possible extraneous variables. Does the study have more than one independent variable? What did the investigator(s) do to minimize the influence of extraneous factors?
Chapter Two Behavior as a Scientific Subject Matter
THE EVOLUTION OF CONCEPTIONS OF BEHAVIOR
TOWARD A SCIENTIFICALLY USEFUL DEFINITION OF BEHAVIOR
The Nature of Scientific Definitions
Behavior as a Biological Phenomenon
Distinguishing Behavior from Biology
Movement and Environmental Interaction
Behavior as an Interface
Impact on Environment
Meaning of Environment
A WORKING DEFINITION OF BEHAVIOR
An Interim Guide
A Definition of Behavior
Inclusions and Exclusions
Science is not just concerned with getting the facts It leads to a new conception of the subject matter, a new way of thinking about that part of the world to which it has addressed itself.
B. F. Skinner
The Evolution of Conceptions of Behavior
Curiosity about the behavior of living creatures is surely as old as the human species. In the absence of objective discoveries about the causes of behavior, people often simply invented explanations. These prescientific conceptions of behavior were chronicled in the literature of the time. The Greek playwrights wrote of their players misfortunes as being the will of the Olympian gods. The characters of Shakespeares plays behave in ways preordained by the existence of tragic flaws in their character. In the Victorian era of Sigmund Freud, moral authority was derived from theological doctrines concerning the nature of human conduct.
Not surprisingly, these invented explanations for human behavior were usually at least partly, if not entirely, wrong. Perhaps more seriously, their legacy is still with us. Prescientific explanations of human behavior were passed on from one generation to another and have long become engrained in our culture and language. As a result, they tended to discourage or at least conflict with early efforts to study behavior scientifically. In spite of scientific advances in other fields, this constraint continues today.
The latter half of the 19th century marked both the origins of the social sciences and the beginning of attempts to measure behavior. These early efforts primarily focused on defining and quantifying intelligence and a wide array of traits, aptitudes, and cognitive qualities. These data were described and interpreted using newly developed statistical techniques that the young field of psychology embraced in the interest of promoting its scientific intentions. Instead of being the primary subject matter of the social sciences, however, behavior has remained largely a tool used to reveal hypothesized inner processes that are often remnants of prescientific inventions.
The emerging natural sciences provided a very different approach to the study of behavior. One of the most important early scientists who approached behavior as an objective subject matter was the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. He insisted on direct measurement and controlled experimentation by systematically manipulating environmental variables. Although Pavlov was primarily interested in the interaction between the central nervous system and digestion, his approach paved the way for the study of behavior not as a means to hypothetical inner processes, but as a subject matter in its own right.
Although others such as John B. Watson played important roles in the early development of a natural science of behavior, it is generally agreed that
B. F. Skinner is the dominant figure in this history. In 1938, Skinner published The Behavior of Organisms, in which he described the emergence of this science:
The investigation of behavior as a scientific datum in its own right came about through a reformation of psychic rather than neurological fictions. Historically, it required three interesting steps. Darwin, insisting upon the continuity of mind, attributed mental faculties to some subhuman species. Lloyd Morgan, with his law of parsimony, dispensed with them in a reasonably successful attempt to account for characteristic animal behavior without them. Watson used the same technique to account for human behavior and to reestablish Darwins desired continuity without hypothesizing mind anywhere. Thus was a science of behavior born, but under circumstances which can scarcely be said to have been auspicious. The science appeared in the form of a remodeled psychology with ill-concealed evidence of its earlier frame. It accepted an organization of data based upon ancient concepts which were not an essential part of its own structure. It inherited a language so infused with metaphor and implication that it was frequently impossible merely to talk about behavior without raising the ghosts of dead systems. Worst of all, it carried on the practice of seeking a solution for the problems of behavior elsewhere than in behavior itself. (p. 4)
Skinner called for the objective study of behavior for its own sake, rather than for what it might imply about
inner processes. He pointed out that the laws of behavior do not depend on what we understand about its underlying biology. Indeed, these laws represent relationships that must eventually be explained by neurological science.
Toward a Scientifically Useful Definition of Behavior
The Nature of Scientific Definitions
In considering the characteristics of behavior that help us differentiate it from other phenomena, it is important to remember that the distinction is ours, not natures. As scientists, we create distinctions among natural phenomena because these distinctions help us to ask good questions, carry out good experiments, and organize our answers. As we learn more about a particular piece of nature, we revise our conceptions in whatever ways seem appropriate.
In other words, in thinking about how we might define behavior, it is useful to remember that we are simply trying to identify and understand phenomena that share certain characteristics. Any definition is just our best guess at the time about the most useful way to organize our understanding of the world. The usefulness of a definition is often a better criterion for evaluating it than its correctness. After all, it can be sometimes difficult to assess whether a definition is correct because we cannot know what we have yet not discovered about a phenomenon.
B. F. Skinner (1953, chapter 3) pointed out that in their early histories all sciences have looked for causes of action inside the things they studied. The problem is not that inner causes cannot be true but that they are likely to be difficult to observe and study. This difficulty may encourage us to be casual in assigning properties to inner causes because it will be difficult for someone to prove us wrong.
Skinner classified the most common inner causes of behavior into three categories. Neural inner causes use the nervous system as a convenient explanation without clear evidence of its actual role. Our colloquial language offers many such possibilities. We speak of a nervous breakdown or that our nerves are on edge, even though we have merely invented this notion for momentary convenience. Researchers in the social sciences often show the same tendency to rely on hypothetical neural causes, complete with technical terminology.
Psychic inner causes lack the physical dimensions of neural causes, instead referring features of behavior to a corresponding feature of the mind or an inner personality. From this perspective, the inner man (sometimes called a homunculus) is seen as initiating the action; the outer man executes it. The psychic agents might be called processes, faculties, traits, wills, impulses, wishes, instincts, emotions, and so forth. The trap lies in the ease with which they can be given the properties necessary to account for the behavior of interest.
The most common inner causes are what Skinner calls conceptual inner causes, and they have neither neurological nor psychic dimensions. These include general qualities such as intelligence, abilities, talents, habits, and so on. However, explanations in these terms are not really causes but redundant descriptions of the same observed facts. If someone is often seen fighting, saying that he does so because he is aggressive, it does not explain why he often fights but only restates this fact in other terms.
Behavior as a Biological Phenomenon
Distinguishing Behavior from Biology. Even as we focus on the study of behavior as a subject matter in its own right, it is important to acknowledge that behavior is fundamentally a biological phenomenon. A
science of behavior investigates the ways in which particular behaviors change as a result of interactions between an organism and its environmental circumstances. However, any such changes are also reflected as changes in the organisms biology. These biological processes are the subject matter of other scientific specialties, but they have important consequences for the study of behavior.
Although an organisms behavior is rooted in its biology, it has been useful for researchers to distinguish between them. Although we might like to assume that biological phenomena occur inside the skin and behavior is what happens outside the skin, this has long been recognized as an arbitrary and probably not very useful demarcation. It is true that we are most often interested in behavior that involves movement that others can easily see. However, some movements may be very small or very brief or even going on inside the skin. These characteristics do not mean that they should not be considered as behavior.
For example, Hefferline and Keenan (1963) showed operant control over invisibly small thumb-twitch responses that were measured in microvolts of muscle contraction. Should they be considered behavior? What about the movement of various valves inside the body or the beating of the heart? What about the time required for a movement to occur? Although the duration of most responses we are interested in can be measured in seconds or longer, some movements can occur in fractions of a second. Should they be considered instances of behavior?
The answers to these questions are neither obvious nor certain. The distinction between behavioral and biological events remains somewhat vague and often arbitrary. Perhaps the best we can do is acknowledge that scientific definitions of a phenomenon are limited by what we do not know and are therefore always works in progress. Fortunately, questions such as these do not arise very often. The movements that most researchers and practitioners comfortably call behavior are easily identified and measured by relatively simple, noninvasive methodsoften based on no more than visual observation.
Intraorganism Phenomenon. Another implication of the biological basis for behavior is that it occurs only at the level of individual organisms. This may seem obvious, but it conflicts with some popular cultural preconceptions. For example, it means that references to group behavior are misleading. A group is not a biological organism and therefore cannot behave. When we talk about a group of individuals responding to some environmental event, it is the individuals in the group who are responding, not the group as a whole. This is true even when the individuals are responding in a coordinated way, such as doing the wave at a football game. The intraorganism nature of behavior does not imply that individuals might not behave differently in social environments, however. For instance, people might do things as part of a mob that they would not do if they were alone, but even in a mob that it is still individuals who are doing the behaving.
Group behavior. The mathematical result of combining the data from multiple individuals who are related in some way (e.g., exposure to an experimental condition or applied intervention). Does not refer to a natural phenomenon distinct from the behavior of an individual organism.
Intraorganism. A reference to the individual organism as a level of analysis (e.g., behavior is an intraorganism phenomenon in that it involves only relations between the individual organism and its environment).
It follows that if we wish to study the effects of some variable or intervention on behavior we must look for outcomes by examining the behavior of individuals. Even though an intervention in an applied setting may be implemented for all children in a classroom, for example, its effects are on the behavior of each individual child. This also means that if the individual responses are summarized in a group average, the combined data will obscure the real effects of the intervention. They can only be seen by looking at each childs data separately. This point will be discussed further in other chapters. Figure 12.3, for instance, shows how grouped data can hide individual differences in responding.
Movement and Environmental Interaction
Active Movement. Whatever our uncertainties about the boundaries between behavior and biology, it is easy to agree that behavior involves movement or action. As we have already noted, the movements of interest to researchers and practitioners are usually easily observable, at least in principle. The movement of interest may involve gross motor activity (an individual with mental retardation doing his laundry in a group home) or more subtle actions (a child sitting quietly at a desk in a school classroom).
One limitation we might wish to impose is that the actual movement associated with a behavior stems from the organisms biology rather than mere physics. That is, if the movement can be fully explained by the laws of physicsin other words, if it does not require a live organismwe would probably not wish to call it behavior. The Dead Mans Test (see Box 2.2) will help to explain this point. For example, although the action of falling down stairs involves movement, it does not pass the Dead Mans Test and would not be considered behavior. On the other hand, if you were to fall down the stairs, an observer would see you grab for the railing or try to protect your head. These actions mean that you passed the Dead Mans Testat least for the moment!
Dead Mans Test. An informal test of whether a particular event is a behavior. The test is that if a dead man can do it, it is not behavior. See Box 2.2.
Behavior as an Interface. This example suggests another consideration for how we define behavior. We know that an organisms behavior results not just from its biology but from the effects of its behavior on the environment. This fact suggests that behavior is the biological result of the interaction between an organism and its environment. Another way to put it is that behavior is not a part of the organism; it is part of the interface between the organism and its environment.
The Dead Mans Test
Ogden Lindsley was a behavioral psychologist at the University of Kansas who devoted much of his career to helping teachers use behavioral principles in the classroom. He described this approach as Precision Teaching because of the central role it gives to precisely measuring childrens behavior and graphing the data on a standardized graph. Among the many ideas he developed to help teachers learn this technology is the Dead Mans Test, which is a rule for making sure that what teachers target for measurement really is behavior. The rule is quite simple: If a dead man can do it, it isnt behavior.
One of the implications of this perspective is that it is not useful to think of behavior as a property or attribute of the organism. Behavior is not something that an organism possesses. A particular behavior is not stored somewhere waiting to be called forth. A behavior exists only when there is a certain interactive condition between an organism and its surroundings. This means that being hungry and being anxious are not behaviors because there is no interactive condition between some action and the environment. Hunger and anxiety are often referred to as states of the organism. They refer to real biological conditions, but there is no movement and environmental event that are actively related.
In a similar sense, independent conditions or changes in the environment do not define occurrences of behavior because no interaction is specified. For example, someone walking in the rain gets wet, but getting wet is not an instance of behavior. A child may receive tokens for correctly working math problems, but receiving tokens is not a behavior. Both examples fail the Dead Mans Test because there is no interactive movement.
Impact on Environment. There is still another implication of thinking about behavior in terms of movements that involve interaction with the environment. It is impossible for a behavior to occur that does not influence the environment in some way. We use some of these environmental effects to measure behavior.
That is, when a researcher or practitioner measures the occurrence of individual responses, they are actually measuring some environmental effect of these responses. Often the impact of a response is easy to detect. For instance, a laboratory researcher measures a pigeons key pecking by recording the displacement of the key. A practitioner measures an individuals progress in learning to make a change by counting the coins that a learner hands to the trainer on each trial following the trainers prompt.
Is Thinking a Behavior?
If it seems obvious that behavior involves movement, what about the activities we usually talk about in behavioral terms but for which we can detect no movement? For instance, we often discuss thinking as a behavior (Skinner, 1953), but not even the thinking individual can detect any actual movement. This is a tough problem because we certainly do not want to deny that thinking is something that people do, but how does it qualify as behavior if there is no evident movement?
The solution to this problem goes back to our discussion of the nature of scientific definitions. Even though we cannot define thinking in terms of movements, it has proven useful to conceptualize it as behavior. This approach has the advantage of encouraging researchers and practitioners to approach thinking in the same way that they approach more obvious human activity. From this perspective, thinking is a behavior influenced by antecedent and consequent events, as described by the three-term contingency.
This approach is especially important because the culture has taught us to view thinking as controlled by the mind, a view that is incompatible with scientific investigation. Viewing thinking as behavior is consistent with the philosophy of science called radical behaviorism. This conceptual framework for a science of behavior acknowledges the importance of studying all real aspects of behavioral phenomena but denies scientific legitimacy to qualities that are only fictional (Baum, 2005).
As chapter 6 will discuss, in many applied settings one of the environmental impacts of a behavior is the effect it produces on the behavior of a trained observer. This is a perfectly acceptable approach to measurement as long as two conditions are met. First, the changes in the measuring instrument must not be the only evidence of the existence of the behavior. If there is truly no evidence that the behavior exists apart from the measurement process, it is probably not really a behavior. Second, it is important that all statements describing the behavior are in terms of the organismenvironment interaction.
In order to understand these two requirements, consider the following examples. If it is said that a person expects to do well on a test, is expecting a behavior? What is the evidence for the existence of a behavior that we might call expecting? Because there is no evident movement involved, the usual evidence that might be offered is some kind of verbal report. This kind of evidence might come from the persons score on a questionnaire in which their responses to various items were combined into measures of expectation. In this case, we would have to acknowledge that the only basis for talking about expecting as a behavior was the expectation score on the questionnaire. Of course, this score partly represents the behavior of the person who designed the instrument. It might be more honest to describe the behavior of the individual who responded to the questions as filling out questionnaire behavior. It is certainly not useful to call such behavior expecting.
As another example, consider referring to the act of helping someone pick up a heavy object as cooperativeness or being cooperative. This raises the question of whether cooperativeness is a behavior. If it is, what is the movement and what are its effects in the environment? If we answer this question by referring to the act of picking up a box, it could be argued that picking up a box would be a more descriptive label than being cooperative. Perhaps it is better to use cooperating as a colloquial label rather than a scientific term. After all, in everyday language, a wide variety of different behaviors under different circumstances might be described as being cooperative. However, if all such instances were described with this single label it would be difficult to learn about the different behaviors actually involved in each circumstance. We avoid
this problem when we relate particular types of actions to certain environmental circumstances.
Meaning of Environment. Finally, it is important to understand that in the study and management of behavior the term environment is defined in a specific yet comprehensive way. Environment refers to the full set of physical circumstances in which the organism exists. The term is comprehensive in that any facets of the physical world may be considered for their contribution to behavior. The term is specific in that for any particular behavior, the focus is usually on only those environmental events that are functionally related to individual responses. That is, the environmental events that are most important are those related to the behavior in the three-term contingency.
Environment. The complex of physical circumstances in which the organism or referenced part of the organism exists. This includes any physical event or set of events that is not part of a behavior and may include other parts of the organism.
The relevant environment can even include the organism doing the behaving. In a general sense, biological events going on inside the skin are probably always related to behavior. For instance, if you go out for a run on a hot summer afternoon, some of the stimuli related to how far and how fast you run involve your physiology. You may be aware of some of these stimuli (increasing discomfort in your leg muscles), but others you may not be able to sense (various changes in your biochemistry). As another example, when you scratch an itch, the stimulation from your skin probably increases the effectiveness of relief from the itching as a negative reinforcer and makes the behavior of scratching more likely. Our bodies are an ongoing source of antecedent and consequent environmental events related to responding. This fact reminds us that the skin is not an especially important boundary in understanding behavior.
Traits and Colloquial Language
By actual count, there are thousands of terms in the English language referring to enduring or temporary traits of human behavior. In discussing the issues they raise for a science of behavior, B. F. Skinner (1953) provided an example of familiar traits using just those starting with the letter h:
There was a remarkable change in his behavior. Where he had been happy-go-lucky, he grew hesitant and heavy-handed. His natural humility gave way to a sustained haughtiness. Once the most helpful of men, he became heedless and hard-hearted. A sort of histrionic horseplay was all that remained of his fine sense of humor. (pp. 194195)
In everyday language, we use traits as summary references to an individuals behavioral tendencies or characteristics. It would be awkward and time-consuming to describe the behavioral details of many different samples of a persons behavior, so we just summarize our observations. These summaries usually work fairly well for conversational purposes, but they fall well short of the precision of reference required by scientists.
A more serious problem lies in our tendency to use traits not just as summaries of behavior but as causes for the same behavior as well. We do this, for example, when explaining someones sunny disposition by saying that it is because they are a happy person at heart. As Skinner has observed, there is only one set of behavioral facts involved (observations of the person smiling, laughing, etc.). If we are going to summarize those facts by describing the person in terms of a trait, then using the same facts to explain the trait contributes nothing to our understanding of why the person behaves in this manner. In order to understand the causes of this kind of behavior, we would have to know about the environmental factors in their history that made such behavior likely. The colloquial conception of behavior, however, assumes that traits are somehow inherent qualities in each individuals personality.
A Working Definition of Behavior
An Interim Guide
As we noted earlier, in drafting a definition of behavior we are guessing about the fundamental nature and extent of a natural phenomenon. It is necessarily a guess because we can never be certain about any characteristics and limits that may lie beyond our present understanding. Furthermore, a definition of behavior is only a bit of verbal behavior, and it certainly does not mean that the phenomenon exactly matches our assumptions. It is important to remember that our task as behavioral scientists is to discover through experimentation the dimensions of behavior and how they relate to other natural phenomena, and not try to force nature to fit our preconceptions.
This perspective suggests that any definition is only an interim guide to help researchers and practitioners do their jobs. The value of a definition of behavior lies in the extent to which it helps researchers to ask good experimental questions, design measurement procedures, and evaluate the impact of experimental variables. For practitioners, a definition of behavior is especially important in deciding how to define and measure target behaviors that are important in everyday life. As upcoming chapters will show, how we define behavior also directs us toward, or away from, certain methodological practices.
A Definition of Behavior
The following definition of behavior identifies the key features of behavior that are important for researchers and practitioners:
Behavior is that portion of an organisms interaction with its environment that involves movement of some part of the organism.
Let us consider the parts of this definition in light of the issues discussed in the previous section. First, it makes clear that behavior is biological in nature by limiting it to organisms. So, for example, references to the behavior of the stock market clearly do not meet the requirements of this definition. Any implication that the aggregate effect of buying and selling stocks involves something more than the behavior of individual investors or fund managers misunderstands the nature of behavior as a biological phenomenon.
Second, the definition identifies behavior as an interaction between organism and environment. This focus avoids implying that behavior is a possession of the organism and highlights the requirement for an interactive condition. In other words, the definition identifies behavior as the result of an interactive condition between organism and environment. It is the interface between organism and environment.
Third, the definition specifies that behavior involves movement of some part of the organism. Movement is the most obvious aspect of behavior, of course, and is often the feature of behavior that is observed and recorded. (As we will see later, however, sometimes a behavior can also be defined in terms of its effects rather than the actual movements that produced those effects.) Reference to some part of the organism means that although the whole organism participates in behavior, we may sometimes be interested in actions involving only coordinated parts of the organism. For example, when a practitioner is teaching an individual who has had a traumatic brain injury to write her name, the focus will probably be on only certain movements of the fingers, hand, and arm.
Finally, it is important to understand that we intend this definition of behavior to do no more than circumscribe the limits of behavior as a natural phenomenon for the purpose of scientific study and delivery of behavioral services. It is certainly not an adequate guide for defining particular instances of behavior that a researcher or practitioner wishes to measure. Chapter 4 will address this need in detail.
Inclusions and Exclusions
The task for any definition is distinguishing what belongs in the defined category from what does not. Although at first this definition of behavior might seem narrow, it is actually broadly inclusive. Any movement of an organism involving an interactive condition with the environment fits its basic requirements. This includes a truly infinite array of actions. In fact, making up a comprehensive list of behaviors would be impossible if only because we do not have enough different labels to accommodate all of the different behaviors we could identify.
If discussing the inclusiveness of the definition is almost pointless, perhaps examining its exclusions will help to clarify its usefulness. The definition denies behavioral status to all of the following:
1. Events that do not involve an organism. 2. Events that do not involve the physical environment. 3. Events that do not apparently involve movement. 4. Movements that do not involve an interactive condition between organism and environment. 5. Events for which the sole evidence is their effect on a measuring instrument.
In summarizing this list, these exclusions suggest that anything that does not involve a live organism interacting with the physical environment is probably not usefully called behavior. If this is a good definition for guiding scientific research and clinical practice, its requirements should exclude only events that are more usefully described in other ways.
Actually, calling them events may sometimes be too generous. For example, in considering whether cognitive activities meet the requirements of this definition, it may be important to ask whether the event in question involves the physical environment. If it is said that a person is anticipating a trip to the dentist, it is fair to ask if anticipating is a physical event. Failure to meet the terms of this definition certainly does not mean that cognitive activities do not occur but how are we to know if they do? How can we know what they are and how they are different from physiological events in the brain that are already described in terms of physical or chemical measures? Although researchers can now directly measure brain activity of some kind when a person is engaging in some task, it is risky to assume that these images reflect specific cognitive qualities or functions. Without such physical referents, researchers interested in studying cognitive phenomena face the most difficult of scientific challengesstudying events whose very existence is unclear.
Theory, Concepts, and Observability
It is important to understand that the methodological problems faced by cognitive researchers are not that the focus of their interests seems to be unobservable. Many phenomena of scientific interest are not directly observable, but this has not proven to be a serious stumbling block in the development of the natural sciences. The problem, at least in part, is that their explanatory concepts are based on unobservables located inside the organism (Lee, 1981). To understand this problem, it is necessary to consider the nature of scientific theory.
Skinner (1961) identified three stages of theory building. The first stage involves identifying the basic data. This has proven a considerable challenge in psychology, although behavior analysts long ago decided that behavior would be a sufficient source. The second stage focuses on expressing relations among these data. This effort culminates in well-established laws or summaries of consistent relationships. The science of behavior has made considerable headway on this task. The third stage goes
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