The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 143–158 | Cite as

The Place of the Human Subject in the Operant Laboratory

  • Alan Baron
  • Michael Perone


Although laboratory study of human behavior seems an obvious vehicle for strengthening the scientific base of behavior analysis, the place of the human subject within the operant laboratory remains problematic. The prevailing research strategy has been to link principles developed with animals to human affairs, either through interpretation of naturally occurring human behaviors or through application of the principles to the solution of human problems. The paucity of laboratory research on human operant behavior derives from several misconceptions: the possibility that experimental demand characteristics and pre-experimental behavioral dispositions of human subjects contaminate the results; that ethical considerations place undue constraint on research topics and experimental designs; and that uncontrollable variation in subjects’ histories and other relevant personal characteristics prevents observation of reliable functional relations. We argue that these problems do not pose insurmountable obstacles to the experimental analysis of human behavior; that adequate methods of control and analysis are available; and that operant techniques, by emphasizing experimentally imposed contingencies, are well suited for the laboratory study of human behavior.


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Reference Note

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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Baron
    • 1
  • Michael Perone
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina at WilmingtonWilmingtonUSA

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