The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 241–259 | Cite as

Functions of the Environment in Behavioral Evolution

  • Sigrid S. Glenn
  • Douglas P. Field


This paper explores some of the ways in which the environment functions with respect to behavior within an explanatory framework analogous to that of evolutionary biology. In both the behavioral and organic domains, the environment functions differently with respect to individual occurrences and evolutionary units. Within the behavioral domain, the problem of accounting for an occurrence of an operant instance differs from that of accounting for the existence of the operant unit of which the instance is a part. Maintaining these distinctions in levels of analysis within the behavioral domain, we focus first on operant units and operant instances as products of evolutionary processes occurring in the behavioral domain and second upon the causal role of the environment with respect to the existence of operant units and the occurrence of operant instances. The environment’s function is selective with respect to origin, maintenance, suppression, and extinction of behavioral populations. At the level of operant instances, the environment has instantiating functions—evocative or alterative. Evocative functions are exemplified by discriminative relations, and alterative functions include both conditional and motivative relations. Implications are considered regarding extension of the analogy to more complex behavior-environment relations.

Key words

evolutionary analogy behavioral selection behavior stream operant unit behavioral instance instantiating function 


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sigrid S. Glenn
    • 1
  • Douglas P. Field
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Behavior AnalysisUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA
  2. 2.Temple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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