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Resolving Barriers to an Applied Science of the Human Condition: Rule Governance and the Verbal Behavior of Applied Scientists

Abstract

Rules / verbal behavior governing applied behavior scientists since Skinner have achieved great success resolving challenges experienced by individuals with severe developmental and intellectual disabilities. We extend prior work by Dixon, Belisle, Rehfeldt, and Root (2018, “Why We Are Still Not Acting to Save the World: The Upward Challenge of a Post-Skinnerian Behavior Science,” Perspectives on Behavior Science, 41, 241–267) by suggesting that many of these rules, applied inflexibly, are unlikely to resolve significant problems experienced by humans without these same intellectual challenges (i.e., most humans). Particularly, methodological models of human behavior that ignore both private events and advances in relational frame theory and that favor a bottom-up inductive theorizing have not, and we argue cannot, address uniquely human challenges. Instead, we propose alternative rules developed in part within contextual behavior science that are more consistent with Skinner’s radical behaviorism than are current approaches and that may expand the scope of applied behavior science. Only by adapting our own public and private verbal behavior as applied scientists can we move toward solving the wide range of challenges within the human condition.

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Notes

  1. Although Skinner advocated for theories that describe certain basic assumptions (e.g., that nature is orderly) and that guess at the result of an experiment before the experiment is carried out (Skinner, 1950), he advocated against hypothetico-deductive theorizing and using theory at one level of analysis to explain events at another level (Skinner, 1950, 1974).

  2. See similar arguments for why the concept of self-reinforcement is problematic (Catania, 1975; Goldiamond, 1976).

  3. RFT extended the concept of stimulus equivalence (SE; Sidman, 1971, 1994; Sidman & Tailby, 1982) for relations of equality. Although arguments can be made that SE and RFT are not the same (Barnes & Roche, 1996), most agree that equivalence is the foundational relation upon which all other relations develop (Barnes & Roche, 1996; Barnes-Holmes, Kavanagh, & Murphy, 2016b; Hayes, 1991).

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The first author is indebted to Ruth Anne Rehfeldt, Dermot Barnes-Holmes, multiple unknown reviewers, Denny Reid, Duke Schell, Kimberly Willis, Steve Mahorney, and Buddy Barrett for comments on previous versions of this article.

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Ivancic, M., Belisle, J. Resolving Barriers to an Applied Science of the Human Condition: Rule Governance and the Verbal Behavior of Applied Scientists. Analysis Verbal Behav 35, 196–220 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40616-019-00117-x

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Keywords

  • Radical behaviorism
  • Contextual behavior science
  • Pragmatism
  • Reticulated theory
  • Private events
  • Automatic contingencies